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Viking 'Sunstone' Found, Archaeologists Say
March 7, 2013

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British scientists have announced the discovery of what they think is evidence of the fabled Viking "sunstone," a legendary type of crystal that Norse explorers used as a navigation tool hundreds of years before the invention of the magnetic compass.

The crystal, found in the wreckage of a warship near the Channel islands, was positioned not far from other navigation equipment.

The ship, the Alderney, sank in 1592. Scientists identified the crystal as Icelandic Spar, a transparent calcite thought to have been used by Vikings on their expeditions of the early Middle Ages. The scientific team surmised that the English crew would have had the stone onboard to augment what at the time could have been unreliable compass readings.

A "sunstone" is mentioned in a 13th-Century story about Olav and in other tales of the period. The crystal, if held in just the right position, would have pointed light directly east and west, which would have helped navigators determine their direction of travel if they could not see the Sun, Moon, or stars. Such functionality would have made such a crystal invaluable to sea-goers, particularly in foggy, cloudy, or twilight conditions, of which the Vikings would have encountered plenty in their North Atlantic seafaring routes. Accuracy was thought to be within a few degrees.

Archaeologists have long searched for physical evidence to prove the existence of "sunstones." The Viking practice of cremation, including possessions, hasn't helped in this regard.

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