Why dying is forbidden in this Arctic township
It is forbidden to die in the Arctic town of Longyearbyen.
Should you have the misfortune to fall gravely ill, you can expect to be despatched by aeroplane or ship to another part of Norway to end your days.
And if you are terminally unlucky and succumb to misfortune or disease, no-one will bury you here.
The town’s small graveyard stopped accepting newcomers 70 years ago, after it was discovered that the bodies were failing to decompose.
Corpses preserved by permafrost have since become objects of morbid curiosity. Scientists recently removed tissue from a man who did die here. They found traces of the influenza virus which carried him and many others away in an epidemic in 1917.
Svalbard’s governor, Per Sefland, has an interest in graphic design and showed me a special road sign designed to emphasise the polar bear threat.
Like other hazard signs, its red triangle signals potential danger. But the inside has been shaded black so that the image of a large white predator can be easily seen by passing motorists.
If I was someone who believed in keeping that corporeal shell around after expiration, I’d prefer to have it shipped off to someplace useful, anyway. Cold storage doesn’t seem productive in this context.