Thursday, 7 April 2016

Evidence of Viking 'Sunstone' Confirmed

For centuries ancient lore suggested Vikings used special crystals to find their way under cloudy skies. The crystal of legend was long locked in the verses of Norse myth with no evidence that it was ever real. Now scientists believe that the “Viking Sunstone” or "Viking Compass" did exist. Though none have ever been found at Viking archaeological sites, a crystal uncovered in a British shipwreck helps prove they did exist.
The crystal was found in the wreckage of the Alderney, an Elizabethan warship that sank near the Channel Islands in 1592. The stone was discovered near a pair of navigation dividers.
A chemical analysis confirmed that the stone was Icelandic Spar, or calcite crystal, believed to be the Vikings' mineral of choice for their fabled sunstones, first mentioned in the 13th-century Viking saga of Saint Olaf.

Today, the Alderney crystal would be useless for navigation, because it has been abraded by sand and clouded by magnesium salts. But in better days, such a stone would have bent light in a helpful way for seafarers.
Because of the rhombohedral shape of calcite crystals, they refract or polarize light in such a way to create a double image. This means that if you were to look at someone's face through a clear chunk of Icelandic spar, you would see two faces. But if the crystal is held in just the right position, the double image becomes a single image and you know the crystal is pointing east-west.

The study’s authors say the crystal could be used to determine the sun's location with an accuracy of one degree, even when it was invisible to the naked eye. It has been suggested that sunstones helped Norse mariners navigate their way to Iceland and onwards as far as North America.