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Viking sunstone may have been found in shipwreck

The Viking sunstone has long been thought to have been a navigational aid used by Viking mariners.

Viking ship sun stone 2013 03 06Enlarge
The Viking longship Sea Stallion of Glendalough sails through the Limfjorden in Northern Jutland on Aug. 3, 2008, after its journey across the North Sea. (HENNING BAGGER/AFP/Getty Images)

Long the stuff of legend, the famed Viking "sunstone" may actually be real.

Scientists believe an oblong crystal found in a 16th-century English shipwreck is a sunstone, the near-mythical navigation aid said to have been used by Viking mariners, Agence France-Press reported.

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The milky white stone is made of Iceland spar, a transparent calcite crystal that polarizes light and can get a bearing on the sun.

The Vikings are said to have used such crystals to tell where the sun was on cloudy days before magnetic compasses, according to History.com.

If the discovery is valid, it could be one of the secrets behind the Vikings' reputation as remarkable seafarers and explain how they may have beaten Christopher Columbus in visiting America, according to The Indepdndent.

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The crystal was found in the remains of a ship that had been dispatched to France in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I, but sank off the island of Alderney in the English Channel, AFP reported.

It was found lying next to a pair of navigation dividers, according to Science magazine.

In a study published in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society, investigators confirmed the stone was a calcite through testing and were able to follow the track of the sun using a similar stone with an accuracy of 1 degree.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/130306/viking-sunstone-may-have-been-found-shipwreck