A newly released study has posited the theory that the “sunstone” often mentioned in Viking legends may not have been a myth; it may have been an actual device used for navigating the sea.
The Vikings were able to navigate the open sea for long distances, without the use of a compass, by reading the positions of the Sun and stars. But when it came to navigating northward from Scandinavia and towards Iceland and Greenland, thick fog was a very real problem.
Scientists now believe that Vikings overcame this problem by the use of a device often theorised to exist but never found – the sunstone:
An international team of researchers led by Guy Ropars of the University of Rennes in Brittany, marshalling experimental and theoretical evidence, says they have the answer.
Vikings, they argue, used transparent calcite crystal — also known as Iceland spar — to fix the true bearing of the Sun, to within a single degree of accuracy.
This naturally occurring stone has the capacity to “depolarise” light, filtering and fracturing it along different axes, the researchers explained.
The study was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical and Physical Sciences, a peer-reviewed journal published by Britain’s de facto academy of science, the Royal Society.