|Natural History of Iceland Photo Guide to the Natural History of Iceland.|
|Background: Settled by Norwegian and Celtic (Scottish and Irish)
immigrants during the late 9th and 10th centuries A.D., Iceland boasts the
world's oldest functioning legislative assembly, the Althing, established
in 930. Independent for over 300 years, Iceland was subsequently ruled by
Norway and Denmark. Fallout from the Askja volcano of 1875 devastated the
Icelandic economy and caused widespread famine. Over the next quarter
century, 20% of the island's population emigrated, mostly to Canada and
the US. Limited home rule from Denmark was granted in 1874 and complete
independence attained in 1944. Literacy, longevity, income, and social
cohesion are first-rate by world standards.
Government type: constitutional republic
Currency: 1 Icelandic krona (IKr) = 100 aurar
Geography of Iceland
Location: Northern Europe, island between the Greenland Sea and the North
Atlantic Ocean, northwest of the UK
People of Iceland
Most Icelanders are descendants of Norwegian settlers and Celts from the British Isles, and the population is remarkably homogeneous. According to Icelandic Government statistics, 93% of the nation's inhabitants live in urban areas (localities with populations greater then 200) and about 60% live in Reykjavik metropolitan area. Of the Nordic languages, the Icelandic language is closest to the Old Norse language and has remained relatively unchanged since the 12th century.
About 91% of the population belongs to the state church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, or other Lutheran Churches. However, Iceland has complete religious liberty, and about 20 other religious congregations are present.
Most Icelandic surnames are based on patronymy, or the adoption of the father's first given name. For example, Magnus and Anna, children of a man named Petur, would hold the surname Petursson and Petursdottir, respectively. Magnus' children, in turn, would inherit the surname Magnusson, while Anna's children would claim their father's first given name as their surname. Women normally maintain their original surnames after marriage. This system of surnames is required by law, except for the descendants of those who had acquired family names before 1913. Most Icelanders, while reserved by nature, rarely call each other by their surnames, and even phone directories are based on first names. Because of its small size and relative homogeneity, Iceland holds all the characteristics of a very close-knit society.
Population: 296,737 (July 2005 est.)
SOURCES: The World Factbook, U.S. Department of State
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