A crystal recovered from a shipwreck in the English Channel may turn out to be the fabled ‘sunstone’ said to be used by the Vikings. According to ancient folklore, the Vikings used a crystal called sunstone to help navigate during cloudy weather. However, it has long been debated on weather or not the substance actually exists.
But researchers from the British-French group the Alderney Maritime Trust said in a new paper published the Proceedings of the Royal Society A journal that a large piece of Icelandic calcite recovered from the 16th century shipwreck might in fact be the fabled stone.
Alderney Maritime Trust researcher Mike Harrison told the Live Science news agency that the substance can “refract or polarize light in such a way to create a double image.” He said that if the crystals are placed in a very specific position, the double image becomes one and shows which direction is east.
Albert Le Floch an expert from France’s University of Rennes, told reporters, “You don’t have to understand how it works. Using it is basically easy,” the Hindustan Times also reports.
However, experts say the recovered Alderney crystal is now useless for navigation purposes because it had been exposed to sand, pressure and other elements for hundreds of years.
Meanwhile, archaeologists have so far been unable to find the crystals at Viking burial sites, and experts say that they are unlikely to do so because the Vikings usually cremated their dead and grave goods.