Computer Simulations Reveal The Sunstone Vikings Used For Navigation May Have Been Eerily Accurate

The cordierite crystal was shown to be 92.2 to 100 percent accurate when used for navigational purposes.

Computer simulations reveal the sunstone that Vikings used for voyages may have been very accurate.
Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

The cordierite crystal was shown to be 92.2 to 100 percent accurate when used for navigational purposes.

Tales abound of Vikings using a sunstone to navigate their way through the vast seas on their many voyages, and now new computer simulations conducted by scientists working in collaboration with ELTE Eotvos Lorand University show that these sunstones were actually quite accurate.

The Vikings that lived between 900 to 1200 AD had unparalleled skills when it came to constructing sturdy boats and traversing the North Atlantic, but with past studies showing that they may have used a sunstone to help them on their many voyages, scientists found themselves wondering just how well their sunstones would have worked on days that might have been either cloudy or foggy, as Phys.org reports.

Even with so many stories that have been passed down for hundreds of years of Vikings and their sunstones, so far not one sunstone has been found on any Viking shipwreck that has ever been discovered. However, on one particular English shipwreck from the 16th century that was recovered in 2002, a mysterious crystal was found among the remains of the battered boat.

While some scientists have speculated that it is certainly feasible that English sailors could have learned how to navigate with the use of a sunstone after being taught by Viking sailors, there would need to be much stronger evidence of this to prove it than merely finding a crystal on a shipwreck.

When it comes to the actual sunstone itself, it has been widely assumed by scientists that this was most likely a crystal of some kind. This is because certain kinds of crystals such as tourmaline, calcite, and cordierite can take light from the sun and effectively break them down into two beams even on days that might be foggy or cloudy, something that would have proved extremely useful to Viking sailors.

Scientists Denes Szaz and Gabor Horvath have noted that even though no one has used one of these crystals for research purposes by actually sailing from Norway to places like Greenland or Iceland, such a journey may not actually be terribly useful when it comes to proving the effectiveness of the Viking sunstone.

Because the researchers believed conducting computer simulations would prove a much better tool to determine if one of these sunstones would have really been accurate when used on ships, they instead ran virtual simulations from one location in Norway to another in Greenland.

Researchers chose different crystals for their simulations and used the spring equinox and the summer solstice as their days to focus on in virtual terms. While the concluding results had some variations based on the different types of crystals that were utilized, it was discovered that by using cordierite the navigational accuracy of this crystal would have been 92.2 to 100 percent accurate in its readings.

The new study where scientists conducted a computer simulation to prove the effectiveness of the sunstone when used by Vikings for navigational purposes has been published in Royal Society Open Science.