The crystal discovery that suggested legend of Viking Sunstone is true
An ancient Norse myth describing a magical gem which could reveal the position of the sun when hidden behind clouds or even before dawn or after sunset, has been the subject of intrigue for many years. But a team of scientists based at the University of Rennes in Brittany may have proven that the Icelandic tales describing a Viking ‘sunstone’ used to navigate the seas may not have been a fanciful story after all.
In March 2013, the team of scientists announced that a unique crystal they studied for three years, which was found in the wreck of an Elizabethan ship sunk off the Channel Islands, may be the legendary Viking sunstone. Their research concluded that shards of the crystal can indeed act as a remarkably precise navigational aid. The crystal was found in the wreckage alongside a pair of navigational dividers. Tests that placed a magnetic compass next to one of the iron cannons excavated from the ship found that the needle swung wildly, by as much as 100 degrees.
According to the researchers, the principle behind the sunstone relies on its unusual property of creating a double refraction of sunlight, even when it is obscured by cloud or fog. By turning the crystal in front of the human eye until the darkness of the two shadows were equal, the sun's position can be pinpointed with remarkable accuracy.
The Vikings were known to be master seafarers
The crystal, made of a calcite substance, could be one of the secrets behind the Vikings’ reputation as remarkable seafarers who would confidently head into unexplored waters. Sunstones are said to have helped the great Norse mariners to navigate their way to Iceland and even as far as North America during the Viking heydey of 900 to 1200 AD, long before the magnetic compass was introduced in Europe in the 13th century. The study authors speculated that even in the era of the compass, crews might have kept such stones on hand as backup.
This is just one of many recent examples in which evidence has emerged to support an ancient story that was previously viewed as mere myth and legend but which appears to describe real events.