Monday, 30 March 2015

The Viking's ring — part five

Ahmad ibn Fadlan manuscript (10th Century)
This series has focused on two very different views of the Vikings: the first with the Archaeological Institute of America news report on research surrounding a Viking grave excavated more than a hundred years ago; the second with a fictionalized and partly invented account of Ahmad ibn Fadlan's visit to the Rus by Michael Crichton.

The AIA's policy of not publishing artifacts without certain acquirement standards is not even a subtext in resulting publications. While its author could have added more interesting content using Islamic coin discoveries at Viking sites which would have given a clearer picture of the different interpretations of the site and could have still been compliant to the AIA dogma, we can imagine that jumping through the necessary hoops might have left the author thinking " I'll just avoid the whole situation by not even mentioning the coins".

Michael Crichton's "novel", however, accurately judges the public interest in the subject, but if its dust jacket were to be lost, all identification of it as a novel would also be lost and a reader could imagine it to be a fictionalized history, or even a true history written as a novel to introduce a hypothesis about the survival of extinct hominids in the tenth century — typical "History Channel" stuff. Even if we do all of the research on the Crichton work, we are still not sure about the "make Beowulf interesting" idea and we might wonder if Michael Crichton's motives might have changed during its writing.

Any reader coming across either work who is new to the subject could easily be misled. The AIA report omits the most interesting questions about the site because (presumably) it would make the job more difficult and it might have been difficult to have been published because of their policies. There is also the chestnut about trade: we are supposed to believe that coins were only used in the modern sense; to make small purchases at a market and not as payments between states which can then have a later, localized, function as market currency.

Michael Crichton's work could easily inspire an interest in the Vikings, but the average reader cannot differentiate between the true content reported by ibn Fadlan and the "fantasy fiction" which was added by the author. The AIA report omits some intriguing information about Islamic coins which was referenced in the original researchers paper and which could have inspired more interest, but the overriding consideration was the AIA publication policy — again, something that would be missed by the average reader. It adds, too, the lazy explanation of trade to explain anything that might show up in an unusual location. Clearly, little thought was given to the practical matters of trade and the very common political/military use of money throughout history. Ironically, the AIA report lacked very important context. Dogma often leads to enantiodromia.

No comments:

Post a Comment