Scrapie Diagnosed in Northwest Iceland

Sheep in Iceland

The degenerative and fatal disease scrapie has been diagnosed in sheep at Bergsstaðir farm in Northwest Iceland, in the Húnavatnssýsla district, RÚV reports. In conformance with Icelandic health regulations, 690 sheep will be slaughtered as quickly as possible to prevent the spread of the disease to other herds. It is the first time the disease has been detected in the region, which will have an impact not just on Bergsstaðir but the entire district. Scrapie is not transmissible to humans.

Scrapie is often described as the ovine equivalent of mad cow disease. If a sheep tests positive for scrapie, the entire herd is culled, the entire farm’s hay must be destroyed, and the entire farm and its implements must be sanitised, either chemically or through fire, as the disease can remain dormant in the environment for decades. As a result, even after this deep-cleaning, farmers are not able to raise sheep on the land for a set time, and the scorched-earth policy may even affect neighbouring herds and farms.

The Miðfjarðarsveit area, where Bergsstaðir farm is located, will now face significant restrictions on sheep farming for the next two decades, including a ban on transporting sheep between locations and transport of other materials.

Researchers have recently discovered two genotypes in the Icelandic breed of sheep that appear to protect sheep from scrapie: ARR and T137. Breeding programs have begun in efforts to eradicate the disease from Iceland.

Read more about the goal of eradicating scrapie from Iceland in the article Good Breeding.

I’d like to learn more about the settlement of Iceland and the Viking Age. What are some good resources?

iceland settlement history

Around 870, farmers, warriors, and merchants from Norway and the North Atlantic began coming in earnest to the island to settle permanently. The first to lead the charge was a man named Ingólfr Arnason, a man who is heralded as the first settler. He sailed in 874 from Norway to Iceland and set up his homestead in Reykjavík – the eventual capital of the country.

However, according to The Book of Settlements, there actually were some people living there before Ingólfr showed up. The Norse found papar – Irish Christian hermits – living in caves around Iceland but swiftly kicked them out. According to some archaeologists, there is some merit to this story, but the number of papar would have been relatively few.

Over the next 60 years, families poured into Iceland to gobble up the available land. Early settlers claimed huge stretches, then gave or sold big chunks to the latecomers. The majority of settlers came from Norway, but many came from the British Isles. In fact, recent scholarship has argued that the Celtic aspect of the Icelandic settlement is greater than previously believed.

Several factors brought the immigrants to Iceland. First, and most obviously, people love free land! Even with Hrafna-Flóki‘s bad reviews and the obvious limitations of the land – not much could grow – people still needed a place to stretch out and settle down. The Viking Age expansion of the Norse people across the Atlantic was driven by adventure but also need. Some scholars have argued that because the eldest son would inherit the family farm, younger sons around Scandinavia were left without a home. So they ventured out to make a home for themselves, settling in Iceland, Shetland, and the Faroe Islands. And of course trying to take for themselves England, parts of France, and other parts of Europe.

According to the Icelandic sagas, one of the most important driving factors of the settlement of Iceland was the tyranny of King Harald Finehair. Determined to become the sole king of Norway, Harald was eliminating petty kings and jarls that he saw as threats and taking over ancestral holdings and lands that free farmers had had for generations. Although later scholars say that the medieval sagas greatly exaggerate Harald‘s oppression, it certainly drove some families away.

Some of these settlers had, in fact, been Vikings. And for generations, the sons of Icelandic farmers would leave during the summers to join Vikings on raids around the North Atlantic and Europe. But it is misleading to say that the Vikings settled Iceland. Viking was an occupation – something you did. And most of the settlers were farmers and merchants – though certainly skilled warriors!

By 930, the majority of free land had been claimed and the mass settlement had ceased. For the next 300 years, Icelanders set up a government without a head. Some say it was egalitarian and classless, but that‘s a romantic view. It is true, though, that there was no king, no president, and no official ruler. Some farmers became chieftains, some served on juries or on the law council to help write laws. There were no police or official militaries. Disagreements and criminal criminal cases were resolved by neighbours, farmers, chieftains, and the victims. The highest public office was the lawspeaker, which was a fixed 3-year term. This era of Iceland‘s history came to an end around 1252 when Iceland officially became a part of the Norwegian kingdom. The nation wouldn‘t be an independent country again until 1944.

For those who would like to know more about the settlement of Iceland and the Viking Age, here is a brief, non-exhaustive list of resources for further reading.

Primary Sources

For historians, a primary source is a document that originates from the historical period in question. The study of primary sources is one of the best ways to really see what life might have been like, but at the same time, it can also be difficult to interpret these documents, as the period in question may be very far removed historically and geographically. Luckily, the Settlement of Iceland and the Viking Age produced some rather useful and interesting sources that even modern readers can enjoy.

The Icelandic Sagas: To put it very briefly, the Icelandic sagas are semi-historical works of prose literature written about the settlement of Iceland. These stories were first put down several centuries after the events they depict, but there is reason to believe that they also reflect a tradition of oral storytelling that may have even older roots. Many editions of these stories abound, and although there is perhaps no wrong place to start, it’s best to get a modern translation from a major publishing house. Some of the most important Icelandic sagas include Njall’s saga, Egill’s saga, Laxdæla saga, and Eyrbyggja saga.

The Travels of Ibn Fadlan: The Viking and Arab worlds often came into contact through Rus merchants and slave traders travelling via Constantinople. One of the most interesting products of this cultural exchange is this work, the travel writings of an Arab ambassador. The work preserves an account of a Viking burial that is one of the only written accounts of such an event.

The Poetic Edda: These poems concern Norse mythology and are still one of the best sources that modern academics have in the study of Viking Age belief. Some well-known poems from this text include “The Sayings of the High One,” a poem from the perspective of Odin on ethics and wisdom, and “The Seeress’ Prophecy,” a cosmological poem about the beginning and end of the world. Buy an edition that comes with a good introduction.

Secondary Sources

As you might expect, secondary sources include everything written after the fact. Mostly, this will mean academic studies on the period. But luckily, many academic works on this period are quite accessible to the average reader, and there are also many worthwhile popular offerings as well.

The Cambridge History of Scandinavia: This authoritative, multi-volume work is an essential beginning point for studying Iceland and the Vikings. It is rather pricey, but it is possible to access it online through library credentials, and your local community or university library may also have a copy in the reference section.

Valkryie: The Women of the Viking World: This recent academic work by Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir is quite accessible and provides an interesting account of the place of women in Viking society.

The Children of Ash and Elm: Neil Price is one of the most established figures in his field, but don’t worry- this is also a book that was written to be read. It provides one of the best modern summaries of the state of our knowledge of this period, while also showing the deeper historical roots that led to the “Viking Age.”

The Cambridge Introduction to the Old Norse-Icelandic Saga: A rather self-explanatory title! This slim volume comes in at just around 200 pages and would be an excellent read before delving into some of the sagas listed above.

Viking Age Iceland: Written by Jesse Byock, this is also another very good summary of its subject matter. Byock is an archaeologist, so the emphasis is placed on the physical remains of the past, but like all other scholarship of the period, he also relies on readings of the Icelandic sagas to flesh out his image of Iceland.

See also: Where can I read more about Iceland’s hidden people?





Organic Waste Collection to Begin in Reykjavík Area in May

organic waste Reykjavíkurborg

Residents of the Reykjavík capital area will be able to separate their organic waste for the first time starting next month. New legislation that took effect at the beginning of this year makes it illegal to bury organic waste, such as food scraps, in landfills. Organic waste will be used to produce methane fuel and compost.

New split bins and organic waste bags provided

Reykjavík residences currently have bins for mixed waste, paper and cardboard, and plastic, which residents are expected to sort separately. (Glass and metal are also disposed of separately at community sorting stations or SORPA locations.) Organic waste bins will now be added to the household waste to collect food scraps, including eggshells, leftovers containing fish and bones, and coffee grinds and filters. This organic waste was previously disposed of in mixed waste bins in the capital area.

Despite the addition of a new sorting category for household waste, a notice from the City of Reykjavík says that most residences will not see a change in the number of bins, as split bins will be introduced that have separate compartments for different categories of waste. Implementation will vary between detached homes and multi-family residences such as duplexes, triplexes, and apartment buildings. Municipalities will also provide containers and paper bags for the collection of organic waste.

In addition to the four-category sorting that happens at residences, the number of neighbourhood collection stations for metal, glass, and textile waste will be increased so that there is a station no more than 500 metres from each home. Larger neighbourhood sorting stations will be located no more than a kilometre from each home, where additional containers for paper and plastic will be available.

Organic waste collection will be implemented in phases across the capital area starting next month. All homes are to receive the new bins by autumn 2023.

More information is available on the City of Reykjavík website, though it should be noted that the English-language version is machine translated and may contain errors.

Power Player

Diljá Pétursdóttir iceland eurovision

One of Diljá’s favourite Eurovision Song Contest performances ever is fellow-Icelander Yohanna’s song, Is It True, from 2009. Yohanna’s performance, the furthest Iceland has ever made it in Eurovision alongside Selma’s 1999 performance, is still a major moment for Diljá. “I thought it was just so catchy,” Diljá says. “She was so pretty and she was wearing this blue dress with a blue dolphin in the background. I just loved the song and she sang so beautifully.” Ever since, Diljá’s dreamt of representing Iceland in the contest. This May, that dream is coming true as Iceland will be represented in the 67th annual Eurovision Song Contest by Diljá performing her energetic ballad, aptly named Power (co-written by Pálmi Ragnar Ásgeirsson). 

diljá pétursdóttir iceland eurovision
Mummi Lú

Since those early days of watching Yohanna perform, Diljá has already participated in several major song competitions, including Ísland Got Talent and Idol in Sweden. “It was fun and I’m really happy that I did it, but it really didn’t go anywhere,” she says about her time in Sweden. “But I think I overdosed on anxiety in Sweden because I haven’t felt any since then!” 

“I’ve got an athlete’s mindset.”

For someone who’s spent most of her life performing, Diljá has had her share of struggles with anxiety. “I always had huge anxiety problems related to school and competing in singing,” she explains. “I couldn’t handle taking tests. And it was the same with performing. I got so anxious. But I did it because I knew I have to be able to do something like this.” It may not come as a surprise, then, that Diljá’s Eurovision song concerns overcoming feelings like these. “You hold no p-p-p-power over me,” she belts in the chorus.

diljá pétursdóttir iceland eurovision
Mummi Lú

“I think before Idol I took everything a little too seriously,” Diljá says. “Like, I thought it was going to be the end of the world if I missed a single note! If I did something embarrassing, I thought it was just going to end me. But after Idol, it wouldn’t have mattered at all. It’s just supposed to be fun!” 

These days, instead of worrying about her performance, Diljá likes to have some healthy rituals before she goes on stage. A former physiotherapy student at the University of Iceland and a self-professed crossfit addict, health is the guiding light in her life. Before singing, she likes to do some push-ups and stretches to warm up. As she puts it: “I’ve got an athlete’s mindset.” Viewers of this year’s song competition even got to see Diljá do some callisthenics on-air, and her stage presence is nothing if not athletic.

“We’re going to use the opportunity to make it a lot bigger than we ever could in Iceland.”

diljá pétursdóttir iceland eurovision

Diljá also says there are big things in store for her at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, which will be held in Liverpool. According to her, the expectations have gotten a lot higher since she watched Yohanna perform many years ago. In March, fans of Eurovision in Iceland tuned in to watch Söngvakeppnin, Iceland’s competition to select its Eurovision representative. It’s a sizeable TV event but decidedly more humble than in, say, Sweden.

“There’s such a huge gap,” Diljá says. “Some countries’ selection contests are almost as big as Eurovision itself, like Melody Festival in Sweden. Söngvakeppnin is always getting better and better, but still, some countries have a big advantage.” Icelanders should, however, rest assured. The details of Diljá’s Liverpool performance are still under wraps, but as she says, “We’ll all be on the same field once we’re in Liverpool. We’re going to use the opportunity to make the performance a lot bigger than we ever could in Iceland.”

“At the end of the day, it’s the one week a year where everything is just supposed to be about music and it’s just supposed to be fun.”

diljá pétursdóttir iceland eurovision
Mummi Lú

Although Diljá’s got big plans for Liverpool, there’s a part of her that will miss experiencing Eurovision at home in Iceland. “I always watch it with my family,” Diljá tells me. “It’s a sacred holiday for me and my mom.” And Diljá is quite dedicated to this family tradition. “Two years ago, I was acting in a play, but it was going to be performed during Eurovision. And I just said, I’m sorry, I can’t do it! I have to watch Eurovision with my mom.” For Diljá, the ideal Eurovision experience includes getting cozy with her mom, some sparkling wine, and take-out pizza. “I never like going to these big Eurovision watch parties some people have,” she explains. “I’m here to listen to the songs! The show is on, we can always hang out after.”

Diljá isn’t going to jinx herself with any predictions, but she’s confident she’ll go far. “I know I’m not ranked super high internationally right now,” she admits. “But it’s all going to change when they see me in Liverpool. I think my chances are good. I know I’m headed to the finals, and that I’m going to shine there.” 

diljá pétursdóttir iceland eurovision
Mummi Lú

And if Diljá does become the first-ever Icelander to win Eurovision?

“I would go for a very long walk,” she laughs. “I’d probably need to be alone and ground myself because it would just be too much. I think there’s a good chance I’d just lose my mind if that would happen!”

Icelanders are famous – perhaps infamous – for taking Eurovision rather seriously. What, ultimately, does Diljá think that Eurovision is really about? “At the end of the day, it’s the one week a year where everything is just supposed to be about music and it’s just supposed to be fun,” Diljá says. “It’s so excessive. And I love it!”

Icelandic Police Investigating Possible Child Abduction on Ship

A 15-year-old girl was found on board the fishing ship Grímsnes GK-555 in the company of a 24-year-old man, RÚV reports. The ship’s captain maintains that the crew did not know of the girl’s presence on board and that the man responsible has been fired. Police are investigating the case as a potential child abduction.

Westman Islands police began a search for the girl last Saturday when her parents reached out to them. She was believed to have left the islands by ferry late on Saturday. The Grímsnes GK-555 left Heimaey harbour on the Westman Islands at 4:00 AM on Sunday morning.

Police contacted ship

The ship’s captain Sigvaldi Hólmgrímsson maintains that none of the crew knew that the girl was on board the ship. According to Sigvaldi, police contacted the ship due to a suspicion that the girl was on board. At that point, he asked the 24-year-old man, who confessed to having brought the girl onto the ship. According to RÚV, Sigvaldi is related to the man who brought the girl on board.

Suspected of child abduction

The 24-year-old man was arrested at the Njarðvík harbour on Sunday but was released after questioning. According to police, he is suspected of violating Article 193 of Iceland’s Penal Code, which addresses the abduction of minors. The article outlines that such violations are punishable by fine or up to 16 years in prison, or a life sentence.

The suspect was previously convicted to 12 months in prison for violent offences and threats against two former girlfriends. Sigvaldi stated that he knew of the man’s previous convictions but decided to give him a chance on the ship as he appeared to be working on reforming his behaviour. He was, however, fired after this incident.