Why ask Google, when you could ask Guðmundur? The newest social media campaign to come out of tech-savvy Iceland, Ask Guðmundur, features representatives from across the country offering their local nordic knowledge, and acting as the world’s first IRL “human search engine," or more accurately, your own, personal, internet-based Iceland guides. The platform, presented by Inspired by Iceland, is aimed at helping tourists discover Iceland’s less traveled paths, and features seven Icelanders, from different regions, named Guðmundur (male) or Guðmunda (female) who will proudly offer up their insider knowledge, tips, and mystical treasures.
Norsemen landing in Iceland, by Oscar Wergeland. Most of Iceland's population descends from a relatively small group of settlers, making this kind of genetic testing uniquely feasible.
Late last month, researchers out of Iceland announced that they’d made a major leap in the field of genetics: They’d mapped the entire genetic code of their nation, the largest genomic study ever. This project, detailed in four interconnected papers in the current issue of the scientific journal Nature Genetics, was the culmination of 18 years of work by deCode, a local private research company (purchased by California’s Amgen after declaring bankruptcy in 2009). And according to these papers, the firm’s research isn’t just cool in abstract. As a roadmap for further studies, it has the potential to revolutionize the way we develop and target medical treatments, from drugs to surgical interventions.
Last month, the mayor of the 2,200-person town of Egilsstaðir in eastern Iceland matter-of-factly announced that his government had verified video proving the existence of the Lagarfljótsormur, the Iceland Worm Monster. A fixture of Icelandic myth since 1345, the Worm is supposedly a 300-foot sea serpent, which thrashes about and slithers up onto the surface from within the glacier-fed Lagarfljót Lake. Some say the Lagarfljótsormur was put there by men, some say it was tied to the bottom by Finns to keep its bloody appetites in check, and some say its lashing and churning portends disaster. But rather than go the way of most wyrms—into myth, history, and crackpot theories—a casual, possibly coy half-belief in the Lagarfljótsormur and many more magical creatures still persists in Iceland, with modern-day sightings by government officials, entire classrooms of children, and as in the case of the 2012 film that supposedly confirmed the serpent’s existence, men casually observing a roiling river demon over a cup of coffee. Many suspect these “beliefs” are just opportunistic bids for attention or tourism dollars. But no matter the motive, the Lagarfljótsormur and its mythic kin now play a significant role in shaping Iceland’s relationship with and preservation of its own culture and the natural world it’s tied to.