A Viking sunstone may have been found in a British shipwreck, according to scientists. They believe the crystal is the first real evidence of the ancient peoples’ mythical navigation aid.
The sunstone was reportedly used by Viking mariners to navigate large stretches of ocean well before the magnetic compass was invented.
Scientists believe that the mythic Viking sunstone helped mariners navigate the ocean, even if the sun was hidden behind the clouds. The theory could explain the sailors’ ability to navigate the ocean easily, but it has been met with a fair dose of skepticism.
The crystal’s discovery was announced by a team from the University of Rennes in France. They found the device while they were searching the wreck of a British ship. The wreck is located off the island of Alderney, where it sank in 1592.
The supposed Viking sunstone was found in the shipwreck next to a pair of dividers, which suggests it was part of the crew’s navigational equipment. It is an oblong crystal roughly the size of a pack of cigarettes.
Tests have shown that the crystal originated in Iceland and is made of spar — a form of calcite. The specific form is known for diffracting light into two separate rays. The Iceland spar is also believed to be the Vikings’ mineral of choice to create their sunstones. The fable originates from the 13th century Viking saga of Saint Olaf.
The sunstone supposedly works by holding the crystal up toward the center of the sky, allowing it to hit it and be broken into “ordinary” and “extraordinary” beams. by lining the two beams up with the crystal, navigators could use them as a reference point to where they were in the ocean. It could also be used when the sun was obscured by clouds.
Researchers believe the Viking sunstone found on the British ship could have been used to help correct mistakes made by the early magnetic compasses. Despite the theory about sunstones, no such crystals have been found at Viking sites. The beam believes this is likely because the Vikings often cremated their dead. However, they noted that pieces of calcite were recently found at a Viking settlement, “proving some people in the Viking Age were employing Iceland spar crystals.”
The study detailing the Viking sunstone find was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A.