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The Mythical ‘Sunstone’ Vikings Used To Navigate Warships

The sunstone is a type of mineral attested in several 13th–14th century written sources in Iceland, one of which describes its use to locate the sun in a completely overcast sky. Sunstones are also mentioned in the inventories of several churches and one monastery in 14th–15th century Iceland. A theory exists that the sunstone had polarizing attributes and was used as a navigation instrument by seafarers in the Viking Age.

The history of the Vikings is replete with myths, misinformation, romantic notions, and pop culture laziness. The facts about the Vikings are just as interesting as they myths, and have the added advantage of being true. Far from the violent, unwashed, horned-helmeted brutes of cultural depictions, the Vikings were explorers, farmers, traders, and colonists. They had a diverse religion, stratified society, and rich culture.

While it’s popular to simply lump all residents of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway in the 800s through the 1100s together as Vikings, the term truly refers to the seafaring raiders who landed up and down the British Isles and European coasts. These individual peoples would never have referred to each other or themselves as Vikings, as the term only became popular near the end of the Viking Age.

They knew of the concepts of east, west, south and north. But to them, navigation was more based on where on the horizon the sun rose and how high it was during the day, rather than Earth’s magnetism, which underlies the modern compass.

The optical properties of the legendary Viking sunstone are not just a myth, and can be mastered using a common stone found in Iceland. 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.

British and French scientists have long argued that the find is a sunstone – a device that fractures the light, enabling seafarers to locate the Sun even when it is behind clouds or has dipped below the horizon.

Sunstones, according to a theory first aired 45 years ago, helped the great Norse mariners to navigate their way to Iceland and even perhaps as far as North America during the Viking heyday of 900-1200 AD, way before the magnetic compass was introduced in Europe in the 13th century.

But there is only a sketchy reference in ancient Norse literature to a “solarsteinn,” which means the idea has remained frustratingly without solid proof.

This is just one of many recent examples in which evidence has emerged to support  an ancient story that was previously viewed as mere myth and legend but which appears to describe real events.


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About Unknown

Le Minh Hieu is a national-level weightlifter and a Singapore Weightlifting sports performance coach. Hieu's biggest passion is helping everyone find confidence, happiness, and health through fitness.


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