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The strange story of Longyearbyen4 min read

November 8, 2020 3 min read


The strange story of Longyearbyen4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Right at the tip of the world lies a country called Norway. And at its tip is a group of islands called Svalbard. These islands are between Norway and the North pole. Within those islands, there is one town that is inhabited by humans and Polar Bears alike. It is called Longyearbyen and is the northernmost town in the world! As you can imagine, it’s frozen year-round, and living in Longyearbyen is, well, unique. For one, you are not allowed to die in Longyearbyen. Nope, we’re not kidding.

Image: VisitSvalbarg.org
Image: Random Times

Die another day

It’s 2,000 residents experience all sorts of strange things. They don’t see the sun between September and March, but between May and September, the sun never sets! There are more polar bears than people in their town, and it is compulsory to carry a gun. Well, that is largely to protect yourself from these smart and deadly predators. You can see the spectacular Northern lights from there and can travel around on a reindeer sled! It is mandatory to have a job on the island so you can afford to survive the harsh Arctic conditions. Thanks to this, there has been almost no crime in the town for years!

The Northern Lights can be viewed from Longyearbyen.

Owliver’s Obscure Observation: The temperature ranges between a maximum of 3-7 degrees Celcius and -43 degrees Celcius. Yup, it is that cold! But thanks to Global Warming, the temperature at Longyearbyen went up to a whopping 23 degrees Celcius in July 2020. This is the highest temperature that the world’s northernmost town has ever reported.

But there is one fact that is perhaps the most bizarre. You aren’t allowed to die in Longyearbyen!

What? Why on Earth would that be a law?

Well, there are several reasons for this. First of all, there are no good hospitals since the arctic conditions make healthcare extremely challenging. So most old-people have to go off to the main island of Norway when they need care. Thus, it is also mandatory for all of Longyearbyen’s residents to have an address in Norway’s capital city, Oslo. Secondly, people that are too unfit to work are also shipped off then island since it is illegal to be unemployed in Longyearbyen. But the most crucial reason is that bodies that are buried in Longyearbyen cannot decompose and stay as they are for years.

Owliver’s Obscure Observation:
Most residents of Longyearbyen are scientists who come there to study its unique geography and the arctic ice.

Why is that a problem?

The main problem is that these bodies could carry deadly viruses that humans had already fought and destroyed. Since the bodies do not decompose, the viruses that lived in these bodies continue to survive. In Fact, 70 years ago, scientists found a living strain of the influenza virus that caused the 1918 pandemic in buried bodies. This could mean that even though the devastating and deadly disease is long gone, these bodies could transmit the virus to an animal or human the moment they decompose even a little. We know now more than ever that no one wants the return of a pandemic..no one. The good news is that no bodies have been buried in Longyearbyen for 70 years!

But what if you die by accident?

Well, even though the residents take several precautions like carrying guns, never wandering out alone, and leaving when they are ill or old, people do die by accident. These victims are either sent to Oslo to be buried, or they are burned and then their ashes are buried in the town cemetery. Since most people in Longyearbyen belong to religions and cultures where the dead are buried and not burned, very few people opt for cremation. And even those that do would probably have their ashes sent to their families away from Longyearbyen.

Anyhoooo, you don’t have to worry about dying or being employed at Longyearbyen as you can always just visit for a crazy experience. Longyearbyen gets over 25,000 visitors every year! Just remember to carry lots and lots and lots and lots AND LOTS of jackets and maybe sunglasses too!

With Excerpts From: WIRED, New York Post, The New York Times, Random Times, The Culture Map, The Guardian

Does Svalbard sound exciting to you? Let us know in the comments below.