A piece of viking mummy
The National Museum of Iceland exhibits the partially preserved face of the Woman in Blue.
In my recent visit to Iceland I have not been able to see a volcano, a geyser, or whales, or puffins, and only after two hours of indescribable cold, half aurora borealis, and thank you. However (Odin is praised), I have been able to contemplate something much more interesting: the mummified remains of the Lady of Blue, a wonder. What remains of the face of that Viking woman of a thousand years ago is in a jar.
I got off the island promising me very happy: let’s go, I was going to see the famous study center of the Arctic fox («melrakki», in Icelandic) in Sudavik, to the north. I had not realized that in winter, moving around Iceland is complicated and more so if you do not have a car, sleigh or great resources, and you are not Xavier Moret. The classic excursion to Geysir, Strokkur and Gullfoss (which looks like the names of the trident of warriors of the horde of Ragnar Lothbrok) lasted for many hours and cost a paste; The ticket to observe humpback whales («hmúfubakur») I had to eat it because the exit was canceled due to bad weather and the large colony of puffins («lundar») -the largest in the world-, which so much illusion made me contemplate, Was now in the middle of the Atlantic in his puffy things, awaiting the season of pairing and breeding that is when they visit Iceland. I was about to buy one stuffed, but the joke (not for the puffin) cost 29,900 Icelandic kroner, and I was not going to bag it as hand luggage.
The mummified remains of the face of the Lady in blue are displayed in a jar at the National Museum of Iceland.
In spite of everything, and it was beginning to snow, I threw myself out in the spirit of Amundsen and cheered up with a double breakfast and long underwear, ready to see whatever fate I could find in Reykjavik. A hundred yards from the hotel I was already regretting, shaken by a wind that seemed to blow from the frozen throats of all polar bears in neighboring Greenland. I would have returned but did not see anything, not even my footprints, already erased by the storm. On the verge of falling on Lake Tjörnin among the swans, I fell headlong with a dragon: it was part of the statue The broken spell, by Einar Jónsson, a hyperboreal (and hyperbolic) re-reading of the legend of Sant Jordi. I do not know how I came to a building adorned with the reassuring logo of two Viking axes and sword: the National Museum of Iceland (NMI).
Wherever there is a museum (or a bookstore), I told myself, let the geysers, the volcanoes and the glaciers escape. Besides, he was warm and safe. The NMI is a delight. In their halls you can tour Iceland’s history since the first occupation (there is debate about who was the pioneer, but here, unreleased fans of the Vikings series, we will bow to a Floki, the Norwegian Floki Vilgerdason) to the plates with holes Of the Svidin Coast Guard, attacked by the Luftwaffe in 1943. Of note in the visit were the Viking weapons: axes, spades and spears, the tomb of the warrior who was buried On horseback to enter the Valhalla as a lord, or the section on Bjorsaldalur, the «Viking Pompeii», buried by the eruption of Mount Hekla in 1104 – where the fires of hell burned, according to Olaus Magnus.
The museum treasures other amazing things: a Thor hammer made with bronze from a Christian bell stolen three times (?), The mermaid of Arneskirkja and the pit where the last beheading of the island took place and where I was about to sit Confusing it with a chair.
But, as I said at the beginning, for me the great wonder was to meet the Lady in blue («bláklaeddu konunnar»). Well, with what’s left of it.
The history of this unique Viking semimomy is full of science, mystery, poetry and morbid. In 1938 was found in Littlu-Ketilsstadir, in Hjalstadapinghá (if sounds strange to you would have to try to write it), the tomb of a woman of the Viking age, with her trousseau. 330 tombs of that time have been discovered in Iceland, but this one had something very special: part of the face of the deceased, including flesh and skin of the cheek, and an eye, had mummified. The dead woman was placed in a side sleeping position with the left side of her face resting on one of the copper brooches of the dress. A chemical reaction of the object, by corrosion, created anaerobic and biocclusive conditions that prevented the putrefaction of that area of the face. The fragment found was put in a jar with formalin waiting for a prince (logically also blue) that could wake the girl, although the truth is that its state does not make it very desirable unless you take a lot of imagination.
The prince appeared in 2013 in the form of a battery of state-of-the-art scientific evidence, and the Lady of Blue woke up (though he put it in a new jar and discovered that he had lost his eye): now we know that he died between 915 and 925, who was between 17 and 25 years old, measured between 1.47 and 1.59 meters and weighed between 44 and 50 kilos. Curiously, it did not come from Scandinavia but most likely from the Scottish islands: the Vikings colonists caught them as they passed by, like most of their women. He had suffered a period of child malnutrition but his general condition was healthy. We can not know what he died for. What we do know is that for her last trip she was dressed in blue, because some remains of her clothes with indigo traces have also been preserved. And it was also buried with a blue chalcedony, perhaps a talisman.
The most intense moments in Iceland have happened in front of the jug of the Lady of Blue that is exhibited in the museum. I will not say that it resembles the monumental Queen Aslaug of Vikings, but a powerful attraction emanates. The teeth seem to smile, and from the open mouth sprout an old song, while outside the drakkars sway in the waves, lulled by the brackish wind of the fjord.