Viking ‘Sunstone’ May Have Existed, Claim Scientists

Legendary navigational tool could be real.

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Russell Kaye / Sandra-Lee Phipps / Getty Images

Replica of a Viking ship by Greenland.

The legendary Viking sunstone that could accurately navigate the seven seas in bad weather may actually be based on a real artifact, claim scientists.

After spending three years examining a cloudy crystal discovered in an Elizabethan wreck, researchers believe it could have been used to locate the sun in cloudy weather. The Alderney sank off the British Channel Islands in 1592.

(PHOTOSThe Vikings Are Coming)

“In particular, at twilight when the sun is no longer observable being below the horizon, and the stars still not observable, this optical device could provide the mariners with an absolute reference in such situation,” wrote researchers in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A, a scientific journal.

A chemical analysis confirmed that the stone was calcite crystal, otherwise known as Icelandic Spar — believed to be the mineral of choice for Viking sunstones, reports Fox News.

Owing to the crystal’s unusual property of creating a double refraction of sunlight, the sun’s position can be pinpointed with remarkable accuracy simply by rotating it against the human eye until the darkness of the two shadows become equal. Researchers say the principle holds true even when obscured by thick cloud or fog.

It may not live up to its reputation as a magical gem that bestows the ability to plot the sun’s course even at night — as described in Icelandic fables — but the antique navigational aid could be behind the Vikings’ reputation as peerless explorers. Experts believe that Nordic adventurers may have beaten Columbus to the Americas by several centuries, according to the Independent.

The rectangular crystal has been studied by scientists at the University of Rennes, in Brittany, France, who suggests that Tudor sailors may also have used the stone hundreds of years after the end of the Viking Age.

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6 comments
SteveBell
SteveBell

Countless others including me do care....Why read articles that don't interest you?

Why should any of the rest or us be concerned with you tastes, arrogance, and bigotry?

RugeirnDrienborough
RugeirnDrienborough

This business about the Vikings or other wandering sailors having reached the Americas before Columbus demonstrates our ongoing fascination with irrelevant triviality. Who cares if they did? The event established no lasting presence and had no effect on later developments. This is the sort of thing that belongs in Ripley's Believe It Or Not and has no place in any serious consideration of history.

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

@RugeirnDrienborough  Some of us have a fascination with the truth.   One person's "irrelevant triviality" is of keen interest to others, such as historians, history tourists and fans, archaelogists, etc.  What makes it trivial anyway?   Viking knowledge had to have effects on other ocean going countries travels (Viking history forms a major part of the medieval history of much of Europe and England, including the Norman conquest of England).  As we get further and further away from actual moon landings, maybe a hundred years there will be deliberations on who went there first, if they went there at all.  Getting facts right does matter. 

RugeirnDrienborough
RugeirnDrienborough

@notLostInSpace @RugeirnDrienborough I'm not saying it's not true, just that it had no important effects. I don't in the least mind that people are interested in trivia, only that it is so often taken to be non-trivial.

As far as I know, Columbus had no knowledge whatsoever about what the Vikings did. If he had, it would seem quite unlikely that he would have thought he had found the Indies.

For that matter, it would seem that the Vikings themselves preserved very little information about their brief experiences on the coast of North America beyond including a few mentions of it in sagas here and there. If they themselves attached no importance to it, why should we? Other than, of course, insatiable curiosity about all things Viking. Againt, let's not mistake what is interesting for what is important.

There is no reason whatsoever why Viking knowledge "had to have effects on other ocean going countries;" there's nothing necessary or inevitable about that at all. In fact, so far as I know, the maritime efforts of the Portuguese, English, Spanish and Italians went forward in complete ignorance of the Viking voyages.

If there is actual debate in 2113 about who landed on the moon first, it will be due to a loss of information comparable to the decay of the library at Alexandria. The Vikings didn't  leave entire libraries of detailed information about their time in Vinland. Either that, or it will mean the the landing-deniers won, probably along with the holocaust-deniers and the whole flock of conspiracy theorists.

It's also worth noting that so far, humankind has spent far less time on the moon than the Vikings did on the coast of what is now Canada. They managed to live there. We've never done that on the moon. Aside from technological spin-offs that could easily have been developed in other ways, the moon landing has had no practical consequences. Again, one must separate the interesting - indeed, the fascinating - from the important.

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

@RugeirnDrienborough @notLostInSpace

Wow.So if no library is left then there is no importance to what happened?By extension then, how did “mankind” learn to fish, cook, grow, hunt, start fires, build shelters?Of the time mankind has existing, most of the history, which would include know-how such as sailing, has not been recorded.Columbus probably did not know all of those that he owed debt to for the then state of the art in sailing (navigation, ship building, etc.).No more than we can say who taught us how to build fires.Do you know who the first person to cook a lobster was?Who do we owe our knowledge to?Do you think the Europeans (and others) that the Vikings visited did not ask for and receive (maybe not willingly) knowledge?When the American Indians learned to use guns that were previously only used by the invading east coasters (a good name escapes me!) did they go to a library or did someone show them how to use them?