The Faroe Islands, a remote archipelago of eighteen islands northwest of Scotland, are somewhat of a terra incognita. That is, they are little known to most of the world and are considered to be one of the last unspoiled places of Europe. Though the specifics of first settlement are not fully known, most sources state that the islands were initially settled by Irish monks between 600 and 800 AD. One writing exists from that time; a monk named Dicuil visited the islands while writing the Liber de mensura orbis terræ (Book of the Measurement of the Earth), in which he wrote: ”Among these I have lived in some, and visited others; some I have only glimpsed, while others I have read about” (Wylie, 7).
Sometime in the ninth century, Viking Norsemen began raiding and settling in the islands. Archaeological evidence suggests their diet consisted of sheep, cows, pig, seals, pilot whales (grind), guillemots, razor bills, cormorants, sea-gulls, and cod. Only the southernmost islands could support grain, and at that, only barley. Vegetables were otherwise unable to be supported. Wylie states that the Norsemen certainly had horses, but is unsure whether they were used as food or not. There is archaeological evidence of wooden toys in the shape of horses. Early trade consisted of wool and fish for lumber, as the islands had no native trees. General consensus is that the sheep ate them all.
Homes were built from stone with turf roofs; lumber was used for furniture, internal woodwork, and for boats. From the ocean, the settlements were almost invisible against the stark rock and pasture. Clothing was primarily created from wool from the sheep and dyed with lichen and other mordants (gained from trading). Faroese wool is known for its extra lanolin content, making it more water-resistant than other breeds of wool and is still prized today for those properties used specifically for knitting fishermen's sweaters. The weather on the islands is much warmer than continental land at the same latitude, primarily because the islands are located directly on the gulf stream. The summer is never hot—average temperatures fall around 55 degrees Fahrenheit—rarely cold, as the temperatures stay in the low to mid thirties, but as a rule windy and stormy. During the summer, the islands receive up to five hours of full sunlight, while in the winter months they remain in a near-constant state of darkness and twilight.
Early government consisted of a parliament called Løgting, which met in Tórshavn every year in either late spring or early summer. The Løgting was presided over by a løgmaður. Once the islands lost their independence to Norway, officers called sheriffs were introduced to help govern the islands. Most sheriffs were locals, but the ”rulers” of each island set (now broken into six groups) was typically foreign.
During the Protestant reformation, the official language was Danish—threatening to push the Faroese language to extinction. Through medieval chain-songs the Faroese maintained their culture, heritage, and language for three hundred years before Faroese became the national language again. Today, the Faroe Islands are home to roughly 50,000 people and about twice as many sheep. They are an autonomous collective of Denmark and are self-governing.