Men and women dressed as Vikings in Henley-on-Thames, U.K. (Darren Fletcher-WPA Pool/Getty Images)
It sounds like something out of an "Indiana Jones" movie: the quest for a crystal that once helped sailors navigate the seas. But now researchers say the mythical Viking “sunstone” may actually have existed.
According to the Independent, their clue was a crystal found on an English shipwreck off the Channel Islands. The ship sank in 1592. Scientists say they believe the substance made of calcite and known as Iceland xpar, was used as a navigational tool alongside the compass. This tracks with ancient Norse mentions of such a tool, which probably existed as well.
Guy Ropars, reported the Independent, said in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society that the oblong-shaped crystal that they found “could really have been used as an accurate optical sun compass as an aid to ancient navigation."
He added, “It permits the observer to follow the azimuth of the sun, far below the horizon with an accuracy as great as plus or minus one degree.” Translation: The crystal could have served as a guide even on cloudy days or short Nordic nights.
There have been references to the magic crystal in Norse literature, such as the Sagas of Icelanders, but no evidence had been found at Viking burial sites—most likely due to the practice of cremating the warriors, which would have destroyed the crystals.