In London a rough, white rock was recovered from an Elizabethan shipwreck may actually be a fabled sunstone. The crystal is believed, by some researchers, to have assisted the Vikings and other medieval travelers to navigate the seas. This find is very exciting for researchers and scientists as well as Pagans, specifically the Asatru and other Norse paths due to their connection and relation to the Vikings.
Earlier in the week a paper was published by a Franco-British group that stated that the Alderney Crystal, which is a piece of Icelandic calcite that was found in a 16th century ship wreck in the English Channel, would have worked as a sort of solar compass. Early sailors could use it to determine where the sun was even when they could not see it due to clouds, fog, or if it has dipped below the horizon. In the Pagan community and in the scientific community, it has long been speculated that the Vikings were world travelers and had means of navigating the seas that others did not have.
Vikings may not have fully understood the physics of how the stone worked but that would not have been an issue. The stone works as a sun compass by splitting the light beams in such a way that can show the direction of the light source. Albert Le Floch, of the University in Rennes in western France said "you don't have to understand how it works, using it is basically easy."
It’s a well known fact that the Vikings were expert navigators and used the sun, stars, mountains and migratory whales to help guide their journeys across the seas. However, some have often wondered about their ability to travel through long distances between Greenland, Iceland, and Newfoundland. Many Asatru find a strong connection to all of these places and with the discovery of the sunstone it seems as though their connection is for good reason.
Over the years several researchers have suggested that the calcite crystals were used for navigation. Albert Le Floch states that the use of these crystals may have continued well into the 16th century when magnetic compasses were being widely used but frequitly malfunctioned. He also noted that one of the Icelandic legends, the Saga of St. Olaf, seems to reference this crystal when as it says that Olaf actually used a "sunstone" to confirm the position of the sun on a cold snowy day.
There are only a few other medieval references to sunstones and, until now, no crystals had been found on ships. The Alderney Crystal was found in 2002, and until then there had been little to no actual evidence. Many are still skeptical of the theory and the stone. Donna Heddle, the director of the Center for Nordic Studies at Scotland's University of the Highlands and Islands, describes the use of a solar compass as speculative. She said "there's no solid evidence that that device was used by Norse navigators, there's never been one found in a Viking boat. One cannot help but feel that if there were such things they would be found in graves."
Although she does acknowledge that the stone did come from Iceland and that it was found near a known navigational tool from that time period, but she said that it could have easily have been used as a magnifying device as it could have been used as a solar compass. Albert disagrees with Donna and argues that one of the reasons that no stones had been found in the past is because the calcite degrades very quickly. It's highly vulnerable to acid, sea salt, and heat. The Alderney Crystal was likely originally completely transparent but the exposure to the sea water has turned it to a milky white color.
Even with the controversy, this find is remarkable for researchers and those that follow the Asatru or other Norse paths of Paganism as it helps to prove many of their passed down stories and myths.
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