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Editorial: Small world

If it pans out fully, it’s a little piece of poetic justice served up on the racists among us.

A Swedish researcher, examining woven Viking burial clothing from the 9th and 10th centuries, has discovered that the outfits actually contain silver threads that form the Kufic characters that spell the word “Allah.”

The research, done at Uppsala University, is outlined in the university’s online research news publication, and quotes researcher Annika Larsson.

“Presumably, Viking Age burial customs were influenced by Islam and the idea of an eternal life in Paradise after death,” Larsson told the publication. “Grave goods such as beautiful clothing, finely sewn in exotic fabrics, hardly reflect the deceased’s everyday life, just as little as the formal attire of our era reflects our own daily lives. The rich material of grave goods should rather be seen as tangible expressions of underlying values.”

It would be a tough pill for them to swallow if it turned out that Vikings had the same mixed composition that most people now have in their genetic background.

“What was previously thought to be typical Viking Age patterns in silver have now proven to be geometric Kufic characters. The Uppsala University researchers behind the study also show that both Allah and Ali are invoked in the patterns of the bands,” the article says. “The Arabic characters appear on woven bands of silk in burial costumes found in Viking Age boatgraves, as well as in the chamber graves clothing of central Viking Age sites such as Birka in Swedish Mälardalen.”

Predictably, that suggestion has been met with hostility from far right groups that have often adopted Viking symbolism as a symbol of white power; the Scandinavian-based white nationalist Nordic Resistance Movement uses Viking imagery, for example, and in this country, the Soldiers of Odin, named after a Norse god, have been implicated as being white supremacist.

It would be a tough pill for them to swallow if it turned out that Vikings had the same mixed composition that most people now have in their genetic background.

Predictably, the news has been met with denial; comments on a story about the discovery in the National Post had people arguing that the Vikings were simply choosing to be buried in the clothing of those they’d conquered.

You can only wonder what the response will be after the completion of the next research project from Uppsala.

“In an integrated sub-project, DNA analyses are performed on human remains from relevant graves, in collaboration with Professor Marie Allen and her research team at the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology at Uppsala University,” the university article says. “It is hoped that the sensitive DNA analysis methods will help provide answers to questions on kinship and geographic origin.”

It is also hoped, at least among reasonable people, that those among us who believe race and ethnicity somehow confers a particular status on one distinct group or another will eventually see the error of their ways.

But some days, that seems like a forlorn hope indeed.

 

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