History · Knitting

Islamic Egypt and Viking Sweden

I’m retroactively adding a preface to this post, to note that the research report it is based on has subsequently been questioned. The rebuttal is summarized in this article in The Guardian. The claim cited there that  the calligraphic form seen on the object did not originate until far later is, however, not consistent with the sources referenced in a preceding post (which display greater academic rigor than any of the other stuff). This significantly weakens that facet of the criticism but the other points remain.

The research report that provided the basis for the present post has been updated in response to the criticism and is still at the original URL. Subsequent to that, an extremely detailed review has appeared in a Swedish post on Facebook. This has all but convinced me simply to delete the material below but I first want to have seen the museum exhibition where the contested object is currently on display. I expect to get there sometime next week and will report further after seeing it for myself.

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Two days after I posted about the calligraphic use of the name “Allah” on Egyptian knitted stockings, Uppsala University published a research report with the title Viking Age script deciphered – mentions ‘Allah’ and ‘Ali’. This describes strips of woven silk decorated with Kufic Arabic inscription, found in several Viking graves. Although this might suggest that the Vikings had acquired them on foreign expeditions, the report says that they were of Nordic manufacture. A related Swedish radio program, Viking clothes show Muslim influence, presents further detail about the calligraphic device and discusses the more extensive use of Islamic design elements in Viking garments.

This would appear to provide a substantive basis for discounting pure coincidence in the parallel appearance of the knitted tubes from Egypt, described in the intervening guest post (thanks Matthew!), and knitted tubes found in Viking hoards in Northern Europe — all the more so, since both include compound knitting. It may also be relevant to the similarly surprising appearance of a number the same laterally-joined needlebinding stitches (out of a staggering array of possibilities) in both Coptic Egypt and Northern Europe. (I was heading toward a discussion of the latter material when focus shifted to the inscribed knitting, but will return to it.)

I’m going to keep this post briefer than usual and then present two lengthier ones in more rapid order. The first will describe knitted tubes of Viking origin, dating from the 9th to the 11th centuries CE. The second will present Celtic flat knitting from the 8th century.

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