Archaeologists have discovered a special crystal that suggests legendary Viking sunstones did exists in reality.
The crystal uncovered in the 1592 sunken Elizabethan shipwreck near the Channel Islands, between England and France is shown to be an Iceland spar.
The research team headed by scientists at the University of Rennes says the stone was next to a pair of navigation dividers, suggesting it may have been kept
with the ship's other navigational tools.
It is believed that Vikings used so-called sunstones as a compass to find their way in arctic waters.
Researchers suggest that sunstones could have been held up toward the center of the sky, allowing sunlight to hit it and get polarized and broken into an
"ordinary" and an "extraordinary" beam.
This crystal found at the Alderney shipwreck. Image credit & copyright: Alderney Museum
On a clear not cloudy day, they could have rotated the crystal until the pair of beams lined up. By noting where the sun was when this happened, navigators
could make a reference point to use even when the Sun was obscured by clouds or twilight.
If the crystal is held east-west, the double image becomes a single image and thus allows a sailor to locate the Sun.
According to the study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A."such a crystal immersed in sea water play a crucial role by limiting the
solubility, strengthening the mechanical properties of the calcite, while the sand abrasion alters the crystal by inducing roughness of its surface.
Although both phenomena have reduced the transparency of the Alderney calcite crystal, we demonstrate that Alderney-like crystals could really have been used
as an accurate optical sun compass as an aid to ancient navigation, when the Sun was hidden by clouds or below the horizon.
To avoid the possibility of large
magnetic errors, not understood before 1600, an optical compass could have helped in providing the sailors with an absolute reference.
An Alderney-like crystal permits the observer to follow the azimuth of the Sun, far below the horizon," the research team writes in the science paper.
It is doubtful archaeologists will ever uncover a complete crystal in a Viking site because Vikings preferred to commit their dead to funeral pyres, cremating
them and their grave goods.
One of the reasons why the existences of sunstones have long been disputed is because they are contained in the saga of Saint Olaf, a tale with many magical
However, this latest discovery offers evidence magical Viking sunstones were real.
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