Helgi Pjeturss was born in Reykjavík on 31 March 1872. His parents were Pétur Pétursson (1842-1909), subsequently town treasurer of Reykjavík, and his wife Anna Sigríður Vigfúsdóttir Thorarensen, a piano teacher (1845-1921). Of the couple’s six children, four survived. Helgi was the eldest. The others were: Sigurður (1873-1952), Ástríður (1876-1958) and Kristín Sigríður (1880-1923).
Helgi grew up in his parental home, but information on his family in his youth is sparse. Their home was at Smiðjustígur 5, and around 1900 they built a large house next to the existing one. The new building was Smiðjustígur 5b, on the corner of Smiðjustígur and what is now Hverfisgata. In 1903 Helgi married Kristín Brandsdóttir (b. 1887) from Hallbjarnareyri on the Snæfellsnes peninsula in west Iceland. They had four children: Pétur Hamar (1904), Anna Sigríður (1906), Þórarinn Brandur (1908) and Helga Kristín (1909). Their marriage did not last, and Kristín left Iceland at the end of 1909. This was a traumatic experience for Helgi, whose health suffered for some time. Helgi continued to live at Smiðjustígur 5b until the end of his life. His daughter Anna, who was unmarried and childless, was his companion and housekeeper.
As this website is primarily concerned with Helgi Pjeturss the scientist, his family life will not be further discussed here. No doubt in due time the story of his life will be written.

Pjeturss showed at an early age that he was an outstanding student. In an interview late in life he commented; “I was 13 years old when I entered the Latin School. I soon became interested in natural sciences. I was never in doubt about what I intended to be.” And in a summary of his life (originally written in Danish and published in Icelandic translation in the book Samstilling lífs og efnis í alheimi/The Harmony of Life and Matter in the Universe) he states “When I graduated from high school (in 1891 with grade I) I had read thick books on natural sciences, and especially geology. But at university I gradually came to realise, under the guidance of outstanding tutors, that my learning was not worth much; but what is most important is to practise one’s ability to be observant.”
From these words it is clear that, even in his student days, Helgi was conscious of what would prove his most important tool in his research on Icelandic nature, which he pursued diligently from 1899 until about 1910. In order to explain his achievements, it is apt to refer to vol. 2 of natural-science journal Náttúrufræðingurinn, 1 June 1942, which was dedicated to Helgi, with the following words:

Dr. Phil. Helgi Pjeturss
The Icelandic Natural History Society dedicates this issue of Náttúrufræðingurinn to you on the occasion of your 70th birthday.

Editor Jóhannes Áskelsson wrote an article, Nokkur afmælisorð (A Few Birthday Words), in which he said: “Helgi Pjeturss had resolved the puzzle in Icelandic geology, which had proved an enigma to so many geologists. This brilliant discovery by Dr. Helgi Pjeturss remains the foundation of all research into hyaloclastite in Iceland.” The article ends on the words:
All Helgi Pjeturss’ geological research will not be enumerated here in detail. Space does not permit it. However, the major studies will be mentioned here, so that readers of Náttúrufræðingurinn may see what this Nestor of Icelandic natural scientists has contributed to the field of geological research. – He demonstrated that the basaltic formation of Iceland was partly erupted during the Pleistocene period, and not, as previously believed, before that time. In sedimentary layers between the Pleistocene basalts he found remnants of marine creatures, which gave rise to completely new information on the climate and living conditions of Iceland during the Pleistocene. He was the first to argue that much of the hyaloclastite in Iceland is formed by glaciers, and greatly and remarkably altered. Prior to his work, the formation and age of these rock types was shrouded in mystery. He made a far more precise study of the Pliocene layers on Tjörnes than had previously been done, discovering that they were thicker and more extensive than had been believed, and a much more interesting subject of study than people had realised. Before Pjeturss started his research, those who had studied Iceland’s geology were of the view that the ice scoured fresh basalt lava fields predated the Pleistocene. He proved that they were the most recent stage of Iceland’s basalt formation, and had probably been formed by eruptions in interglacial periods.
Finally, Pjeturss has pointed out that spectacular breccia formations are found in many parts of Iceland, and he traced shorelines to higher altitude than they had previously been believed to extend.

The bibliography which accompanies this article shows that most of the papers written by Helgi Pjeturss on geology are in foreign languages. This is what geologists of small nations must do, if their work is to receive the attention and respect it deserves. So far as I know, his colleagues around the world are in agreement that his geological research demonstrates that an outstanding scientist was at work.
In his later years Helgi Pjeturss has, in the spirit of the best and wisest of sages, sought to help his fellow-men to understand the grandeur of the universe. He has written of these matters, as is well known, in his books Nýall (1922), Ennýall (1929) and Framnýall (1941). These books are written in finer language than most writings in Icelandic. But it is hard to resist the suspicion that they are written in the language of too small a nation, for their content to attain the respect it would deserve.

Around 1900 Helgi Pjeturss commenced his studies of the nature of sleep and dreams, which were to give rise to his theories on the coherence of all life and matter in the universe. Or, as Jóhannes Áskelsson put it so well in his article, quoted above: “…Helgi Pjeturss has, in the spirit of the best and wisest of sages, sought to help his fellow-men to understand the grandeur of the universe.”
Pjeturss himself saw his cosmological studies as his most important work; and the purpose of this website is to make his writings accessible to Icelandic and foreign readers alike.