Icelanders Want Their Bones Back

þjóðminjasafn íslands

Skulls found to be missing from a graveyard in Haffarðarey in West Iceland have turned up in Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Some Icelanders are working to return them to Iceland. National Geographic reports.

These skulls were once part of Harvard University’s eugenics research and represented the Nordic Icelandic race. Now, researchers in Iceland and the U.S. are interested in reuniting these skulls with the rest of the bodies, currently located at the National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavik.

þjóðminjasafn íslands
Þjóðminjasafn Íslands

The skulls in question  were collected by anthropologist Vilhjálmur Stefánsson, who sought to study them as part of his eugenics research during a time when Iceland was considered a preserved example of the Nordic “golden age.” At the time, anthropologists such as Vilhjálmur were interested in the study of teeth. Because Icelanders led a fish-based diet with virtually no sugar, their teeth were of special interest, as they supposedly never formed cavities. Such research was, however, often fraught with racial theories that held Icelanders up as a forgotten time capsule of an original Germanic culture.

Icelandic academics, such as Gísli Pálsson, have also spoken up on the matter, stating that the remains ought to be repatriated.

Currently, US law obliges museum collections to repatriate the remains of indigenous groups within the US, but no such laws or treaties exist for repatriating the remains of foreign nationals.

Harpa Þórsdóttir, director of the National Museum, stated to National Geographic: “The National Museum of Iceland welcomes a conversation on the repatriation of the skeletal remains from Haffjarðarey. Ultimately, we want what is ethically best for the collection, while also considering the importance of their long-term preservation.”


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Prosecution Seeks 8 Year Sentence in Bankastræti Case

Judge's gavel

Morgunblaðið reports that the prosecution in the Bankastræti Club case is seeking a minimum sentence of 8 years in prison for Alexander Máni Björnsson due to a knife attack on three victims at Bankastræti Club. The prosecution argues that there is sufficient evidence to claim that there was an attempted murder in this case, though none of the victims suffered fatal injuries.

The prosecution has cited the suspect’s use of excessive force, violation of probation, and lack of remorse for the long sentence, pointing out that some of the victims are still dealing with the consequences of the attack.

The case, which is one of the largest criminal cases in Icelandic history, features a total of 25 defendants. 10 are charged with serious bodily harm, and 14 are charged with complicity in the attack. Legal precedent for such charges shows a maximum of 20 months in prison for serious bodily harm.

Defendant Withdrew Confession

Earlier today, the defendant Alexander withdrew his confession in one of the stabbing cases at the nightclub.

His withdrawn confession pertains to the attack on one of the victims, where an artery was severed due to a stab wound in the thigh. Medical experts assessed that the attack had been life-threatening.

He now admits to fewer charges than before. The withdrawal happened just before the prosecution and defence were scheduled to begin their case presentation, and caused considerable confusion.

The presiding judge expressed serious concerns about this decision by the defendant and his attorney, stating that it showed disrespect for the court and disrespect for other legal professionals involved in the proceedings.  Additionally, the defence attorneys of the other individuals involved in the attack had built their defence on his admissions.

The judge has summoned the prosecutor and the defendant’s attorney for a meeting to discuss the matter.

German Expedition Vehicle Causes Damage to Nature Area

german jeep highland

A recent YouTube video, published by the German tourist Peter Ruppert, has drawn considerable critique and commentary in Iceland.

Ruppert, who runs the YouTube channel Pete Ruppert Universe, was travelling through the Icelandic highland in a converted “overlander” military-style truck. When the truck became bogged down on a rough track, Ruppert is shown causing considerable damage to the natural surroundings as he freed his truck.

Reports indicate that the truck, which weighs around 14 tonnes, was stuck in Þjórsárver, a protected nature area.

Daníel Freyr Jónsson, a specialist at the Environment Agency,  stated to RÚV that Rupper was not driving off-road. Nevertheless, Daníel stated that his actions were “far from exemplary.”

“There are trails and roads in the area, and he was not driving off-road,” Daníel stated. A rough track can also be seen in the YouTube video in question. “But the damage caused in digging out his truck is clearly not a positive thing, and it’s not setting a good example within a protected area,” Daníel continued.

Ruppert has denied accusations of driving off-road and damaging nature. In a public statement, Ruppert said: “First of all, we never drove off-road […] [A]ccording to the map, we naturally drove exclusively on marked trails, which were also indicated by the wooden posts that had been set up! However, there were many places where these wooden markers were missing. In such cases, we followed tracks on the ground, so we drove where vehicles had already driven before us. And then, lo and behold, more posts would appear. The landscape in the glacier area seems to constantly change due to river courses. Iceland should either close off such tracks or clearly mark them to prevent people from getting lost!”

Many Icelanders have expressed their frustration at the damage done to nature and highland roads in light of the incident. Icelandic law prohibits off-road driving, and in some cases, vehicles may be confiscated. Heavy vehicles, such as Ruppert’s 14-tonne military expedition truck, also cause outsized damage to natural areas, even when on established tracks.

Daníel Freyr continued: “I think the next step will be to go and check this out and see if we can observe any damage caused by this. And if there is a lot, then we simply need to consider what to do about it. This is, of course, a protected area, and specific rules apply to it.”