Grey Lady

Vikings, Islam, fabrics and a dose of magical thinking in The New York Times

Vikings, Islam, fabrics and a dose of magical thinking in The New York Times

Being the New York Times means never having to say you’re sorry.

The Grey Lady was, along with other media outlets, taken in by claims made by a Swedish university professor about Islam and Vikings. The story played into the post-Charlottesville progressive narrative denigrating the alt-Right. White supremacists had championed the Vikings as the progenitors of a superior Nordic race -- but new archaeological evidence showed some Vikings had converted to Islam and brought the faith to Scandinavia.

The problem with the story was that it was not true.

The New York TimesGuardianIndependent and other outlets uncritically ran with it, but the Independent, unlike the Times, followed with a second article walking back the story.

The first day stories followed the pattern set in the Independent’s “Researchers find name of Allah woven into ancient Viking burial fabrics.” It cited a study released by a Swedish professor that claimed in its lede: 

Allah's name has been found embroidered into ancient Viking burial clothes, a discovery researchers in Sweden have described as "staggering".

It doubles down on this “staggering” news to note:

The silk patterns were originally thought to be ordinary Viking Age decoration but, upon re-examination by archaeologist Annika Larsson of Uppsala University, it was revealed that they were a geometric Kufic script. They were found on woven bands as well as items of clothing, in two separate grave sites, suggesting that Viking funeral customs had been influenced by Islam.

In support of her claims, Larsson stated that the silks she examined contained “ancient Arabic script, Kufic characters, invoking both Allah and Ali.” There were, however, some questions still to be answered, she conceded.

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