Landnámssýningin (“The Settlement Exhibition”) in downtown Reykjavík, late August 2018. The flightless bird pictured at bottom right is the great auk. The last known members of this species died in June 1844 on the island of Eldey (“Fire Island”). Cause of death? Strangulation. By Icelandic sailors.
SEPTEMBER 16th 2018 — As part of the course
Inngangur að sögu Íslands (“Introduction to the History of Iceland”) by Markús Þ. Þórhallsson, we visited The Settlement Exhibition on the Friday of the first week of classes.
The building was constructed around the remains of a viking longhouse excavated in central Reykjavík in 2001.
The actual longhouse. It was inhabited from about 930 to 1000, so from very close to the beginning of larger-scale settlement of Iceland. But apparently vikings were not the first to try to establish a foothold in Iceland. It seems Gaelic monks got here first — or if not first, at least before. But if I recall correctly something heard during a lecture, history does not tell us what became of them. They just kind of disappeared off the pages of history once the vikings arrived, though it is not difficult to at least theorize what happened.
Bilingual signs. Iceland is highly bilingual with English. As more than one Icelander has pointed out to us, it can be difficult to get Icelanders to speak just Icelandic to you, since they can be eager to practice their often already considerable English skills. But it dismays me whenever I hear someone from another country fortunate enough to live here express lack of interest in learning any Icelandic. To me that is disrespectful and closed-minded.
Ancient stone tools. Stone is also a widely used construction material in Iceland, often employed to impressive effect. The reason is logical: Iceland has little in the way of trees. Once there were more forested areas, but those disappeared when the wood was used up for various purposes. But even then, most likely the wooded areas comprised very low-growing birches. Hence a well-known joke here: What do you do if you get lost in an Icelandic forest? Stand up. No rotten tomatoes, please, we heard it from Icelanders themselves!
A panoramic display running around the wall, showing the view from this place as it existed in the old days, with animated sections showing some typical activities of the times. No really old thatched cottages survive for the obvious reason that they are naturally biodegradable.
An interactive table display of the longhouse, with popup menus opened, scrolled through, and closed by hand movements above the surface of the table.