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The Mysterious Island

How many of its mysteries can you solve?

Parades, music, and dancing will erupt across this island on June 17. Islanders will celebrate 54 years of independence. But wait a minute: More than 1,000 years ago, island-dwellers had set up the world's oldest national assembly. How could a country be self-governing in AD 930 and celebrating only 54 years of independence in 1998? It's yet another mystery on this mysterious island.

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1. A flash flood washed out 50 miles of highway and several bridges in 1996. The flood had natural causes, but bad weather had no role. What caused it?

2. The island's climate is cool, yet more than 80 percent of the homeowners there pay relatively little to heat their homes. And not only is the energy cheap, it's pollution-free. What is it?

3. One of the highlights of the golf season here is an international tournament later this month. Contestants tee off in the evening - and play all night. How could this be?


The island-nation is Iceland. While Iceland had its own government at first, civil war led to its submission to the king of Norway in 1271. Later, it fell under the rule of the Danish king. Iceland declared its independence from Denmark in 1944.

(1) The flood was the result of volcanic activity under the huge Vatna glacier. (Glaciers are the white areas on the map on Page 8; Vatna is the biggest one.)

(2) Geothermal energy in the form of hot water is used to heat buildings. Iceland has many hot springs and geysers. ("Geyser" is from the Icelandic "Geysir.")

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(3) The island is so close to the Arctic Circle that for long periods of time during the summer the sun never sets.

PHOTO QUIZ: Leif Eriksson (his name is also spelled Ericson or Eirikson) was born in Iceland in the late 970s. His father, Erik the Red, moved his family to Greenland about 985. Young Leif visited the court of Norway's king in the late 900s. When he returned home, he preached Christianity in his father's pagan assemblies. Leif and his crew set off to explore reports of a new land about AD 1000.

Eriksson called the new land Vinland ("Wine Land"), because his crew made wine out of the grapes they thought they had found. They probably weren't grapes, though. Historians think it's more likely they were gooseberries or cranberries. No one knows for sure where Eriksson and his band landed. They didn't make maps. "Flat Rock Land" was probably Baffin Island in Canada. "Forest Land" might have been Labrador.

And while some think Vinland was Cape Cod in Massachusetts, or even Virginia or Maryland, most historians say that the landscape Eriksson described sounds like northern Newfoundland.

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