The famed sunstones: Did Vikings use an ancient “GPS” to conquer the seas?

Viking sunstonePhoto: stux / Pixabay

Read on to learn about the sunstone – a “device” some have dubbed the ancient GPS system of the Vikings.

If you’ve watched Vikings, you may remember a few scenes in which protagonist Ragnar Lothbrok used a sunstone to navigate the seas. But how much truth is there to the sunstone’s ancient use as a navigation device?

“Sunstone” is actually a nickname for various types of feldspar, such as Icelandic feldspar, and other rocks like tourmaline and calcite. Icelandic sagas and early Christian texts do refer to “sunstones” on occasion – but it hasn’t been archeologically confirmed whether they were in use during the Viking Age – as a GPS, or at all.

The Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary researched the possibility of using sunstones to navigate in early 2018. Professors Gábor Horváth and Dénes Száz created computer simulations recreating real-life Viking journeys.

They used the exact measurements and building style of Viking longship, currents and weather patterns in the North Sea, and navigation with a sunstone. They ran a total of 36,000 simulations.

Viking ship
A recreated Viking longship. Photo: Steinar Engeland / Unsplash

Their findings, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, concluded that it was possible to navigate in such conditions with a sunstone. Sailors could have used the stones to follow the sun’s position and successfully reach their destinations over 90% of the time.

The sunstone, then, could’ve indeed been one of, or even one of the most important, factors that allowed Vikings to harness the seas as they did.

Scientists have confirmed that Vikings successfully migrated, traded, and explored far and wide using the seas as their passageways. 

We know that Vikings took sea travels to new heights. But whether their success was due to sunstones, their famous longship designs, some kind of innate oceanic prowess, or all of the above remains to be unraveled.

Source: Norway Today


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