Skip to comments.Crystals 'helped Viking sailors' (For Viking fans....and others, of course).
Posted on 02/07/2007 2:04:03 PM PST by Jedi Master Pikachu
Vikings may have used a special crystal called a sunstone to help navigate the seas even when the sun was obscured by fog or cloud, a study has suggested.
Researchers from Hungary ran a test with sunstones in the Arctic ocean, and found that the crystals can reveal the sun's position even in bad weather.
This would have allowed the Vikings to navigate successfully, they say.
The sunstone theory has been around for 40 years, but some academics have treated it with extreme scepticism.
Researcher Gabor Horvath from Eotvos University in Budapest led a team that spent a month recording polarisation - how rays of light display different properties in different directions - in the Arctic.
Polarisation cannot be seen with the naked eye, but it can be viewed with what are known as birefringent crystals, or sunstones.
Birefringence, or double refraction, is the splitting of a light wave into two different components - an ordinary and an extraordinary ray.
The researchers found that the crystals could be used to find out where the sun was in the sky in certain foggy or cloudy conditions.
It is already thought that Vikings used sundials aboard ships to navigate.
Vikings were a seafaring race from Scandinavia who used their longboats to explore and conquer parts of Europe, Greenland, Iceland and Russia.
In that Epic "The Vikings" Tony Curtis lead the maurauders with a moonstone which was in essence a piece of a meteorite which was magnitized. It pointed north and with a knowledge of the wind and waves it was almost as good as a Garmon!
Now this is your department.
It obviously hasn't helped them to win any Super Bowls.
Appreciated. Interesting story.
If they were used as time-keeping pieces in the navigational computations, then that might imply the Vikings assumed the earth was round.
That's cool, where can you get one? And how do they know the Vikings used one? When the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, local noon, it is due south exactly, I believe. Pretty helpful.
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There is a persistent theory that Vikings found their way to the South Seas, and settled (amongst other places) in New Zealand.
Speakeing personally, I'd have no at all difficulty believing this theory: their longboats were more than sufficiently seaworthy, and they had an idea-or-two about how to do long trips by boat.
And this would explain several persistent Maori tales about blond, white, faerie people who inhabited New Zealand before the Maori settled here.
It has also been postulated that the Phoenecians got here, at some point, prior to the big Taupo volcanic explosion. Again, I have no difficulty believing this.
Worst case scenario: if you were on a log, cast adrift somewhere in the South Pacific, the prevailing currents would in all likelihood sweep you toward NZ and wash you ashore. Or, at least, that is my reading of the maps...
My neighbor is from NZ. He said the Maori ate the White people.
> My neighbor is from NZ. He said the Maori ate the White people.
It wouldn't surprise me at all if it were so. There are several Maori legends that speak of pale-colored "faerie" people who lived in the bush, amongst which are tales of Te Arawa, who are the famous and noble tribe that populates the lands in-and-around Rotorua.
Maori were cannibals, of necessity: after they killed off the Moa, there would have been precious little protein in New Zealand to be had...
...except the human kind. Cannibalism is a matter of historical record in New Zealand. The Maori were (and are) a very fierce and proud warrior society and they would most naturally have sought to be well-fed. Cannibalism doesn't happen now (or even in recent memory), but a few hundred years ago, of course it did.
There is a bloke who lives just up the road from me, in Waiatarua, who has found "intereting" evidence that strongly suggests a Phoenician settlement in/around Taupo and also in Australia just prior to the Taupo volcanic event.
He has found rock carvings that show detailed maps of the world. Fights between people riding MOA birds (huge ostrich-type birds extinct for many hundreds of years). Phoenecian-style boats.
I've read his book, seen the tracings of his rock carvings. And I have met him briefly, once. He may be eccentric perhaps: there's nothing wrong with that. And he may just be right.
Me, I say:
"In earthe, skye, and sea
Straynge thynges there be."
He could easily, easily be right. Each day we learn that our Ancestors were smarter than we thought. So why *not* a Phoenecian settlement in New Zealand? They could *most certainly* have made the trip, easily and safely.
Who says the Maori were the first to accidently shipwreck ashore in New Zealand? Highly unlikely, given the predominant currents and tides...
...this ol' world is alot older than we think, and there are plenty more surprises in store for us, if we only keep looking!
This is an interesting question - one that is easily answered.
Ever wonder how sightings were taken at sea when there was a heavy overcast or a storm and the sun was NOT visible?
At High Noon, the sun will be at its highest point and no matter how bad the cloud cover is, the sun will ALWAYS be visible at the noon hour, briefly perhaps, slightly dimmed by clouds, but still with enough resolution to make a sighting.
Ask a sailor.
Forget the Mystic Crystal Revelations..
I live in south FL, where it is seldom cloudy all day anyhow, so it may necessarily be awhile before I get a chance to check this out. For the moment, I'm ready to be educated, but am not convinced yet. Very interesting.
Actually it would have pointed to an area in northern Canada as Magnetic North & True North are not the same thing. The differential would have been pretty great for somebody attempting to navigate along the islands of Iceland, Greenland toward Labrador. Still a fixed reference, properly understood, would have helped.
I think the early Viking "World Model" was that of a flat, circular earth with landmasses all the way round the edge surrounding an inner sea (the Atlantic). That said, they could have come to understand that the world was 'round' from contacts with Greeks & Arabs.
Also, I recently read and article about the Maori DNA. It said the mtDNA (female) DNA was from a different group than the male DNA.
The speculation is that the male explorers 'picked-up' females from another racial group during their expansion.
BTW, my neighbor is a rugby fan and his favorite team is the 'All Blacks' and he attributes their winning ways to the agressiveness of the Maori members on the team.
The sun will ~sometimes~ be visible through thin clouds and/or fog. But if the cloud cover is very thick at all, the disc of the sun doesn't always come through.
You also need a clear and sharp horizon to do local apparent noon, and weather conditions will foul that up as well.
Sure there are artificial horizon devices, but they're not very reliable. They work, sort of, but aren't to be relied on unless you've got no choice.
I'd like to see this in action. I'm having a hard time believing that when light is completely diffused there's some refractive principle that can un-diffuse it. An estimate of where the sun sits is possible through an overcast, but its really approximate and subject to easy mis-direction.
The sun will be South of you, when in the Northern hemisphere, your latitude is greater than the suns declination. If you are on the equator and the sun is on the Tropic of Cancer the sun will be to the North.
I have crossed the North Pacific and never saw the sun the entire crossing on numerous crossings. We dead reckoned all the way across. Later we got Sat Nav and then GPS but we still couldn't always see the sun.
Lower latitudes we generally could always get the sun.
My daughter lived in Syracuse, NY for awhile...they don't see the sun up there too often in winter! 'Course, I don't suppose you really need celestial nav on Lake Ontario, probably DR works well enough.
Thanks for your input. I do a fair amount of sailing too, but coastal, although that includes extended Bahamas cruises from FL. But you don't need celestial for that, the distances are small enought that dead reckoning works very well, though nowadays we've got GPS. I still do the DR plot anyway, nice to have a "second opinion."
I'm curious about your N Pacific crossings and type of boat, etc.?
I'm definitely not the expert navigator, but have figured out the sun is to the south, and travels between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn during June 21 and December 21, and ought to be due south at local noon for those north of it, I believe. Still, all input is welcome, since my piloting skills, while I like to think I understand them, are fairly rudimentary by many people's standards.
Yes, to confirm... at Local Apparent Noon the sun is due South (true south, of course). It's used mainly to find Latitude.
The modern usage of the word sunstone refers to an entirely different mineral, varieties of feldspar.
Here are two links that give more detail about how early seafarers might have used iolite crystals as a navigation aid.
I sailed on merchant ships for 30 years. Started out with celestial and finished up with a company which was used as pre-market testing for electronic navigation equipment.
Back to the sunstone, there is a compass called a Sky Compass which detects the location of the sun by polarization even if the sun is just below the horizon.
There is a sun compass which reads the suns location by shadow and is afixed to a compass.
There is another called the Astro Compass, similar to the Sun Compass but used for other celestial bodies.
All three are museum grade now. I never saw one, they were mainly for polar navigation.
My favorite form of navigation was radar & visual along
coastal waters. Radar was my forte.
Not sure how it'd work on a moving object like a boat...but if you throw a pointed shadow and mark the point, and then several minutes later see where the mark is, the shadow point will have moved directly to the east.
My guess as to the "sunstone" would be that you'd use two...both in-line and one on each polarization axis, and where the second one went "dark", then they'd be in line with the sun for whatever frequency they were polarizing for.
Apparently my idea would work but is more complicated and less reliable. :)
...then that might imply the Vikings assumed the earth was round.
Why wouldnt they? They were a sea faring people, and the round earth would be obvious to them.
Well, that's what I thought. But it wasn't until 1492 and later, even, that the world was thought, by Europeans, to be flat.
Looks like the Vikings, as long-distance sea travelers in general, had based their navigational procedures upon the assumption of sailing a globe-shaped surface. I should read more about this, since I'm studying for my Captain's license, and navigation is a big part of that.
I believe the World is Flat was pretty much relegated to churchmen and people who had never been to sea.
People werent stupid. If you are near the ocean stand and look at it from the shore. You will see a noticeable curve to the horizon. Board a boat and head out to sea. First the shoreline will drop below your horizon, than the higher land and finally the hills.
Watch an approaching boat. The first thing you se is the mast, then the hull and finally the waterline.
Head back toward shore. The first thing you see will be the tops of the hills, followed by the lower hills and finally the shoreline.
The only explanation is that you are on a curved surface. The Greek Erastothenes measured the circumference of a spherical Earth over 2,000 years ago
Vikings may have used a special crystal called a sunstone to help navigate the seas even when the sun was obscured by fog or cloud, a study has suggested.
What it can't do is help them find the End Zone.
As for the "churchmen" part, do try to lay off of the snide comments about "religious folk," if that was your intent. The geocentric universe was not a Christian theory (it was Ptolemy's--from A.D. Alexandria), and there is mention of the world being round in the Bible.
The geocentric universe was not a Christian theory (it was Ptolemy's--from A.D. Alexandria), and there is mention of the world being round in the Bible.
The Geocentric Universe had nothing to do with the shape of the earth - round or flat. It was a system that placed the Earth in the center of everything. While not strictly Biblical, there are passages in Genesis 1:9 that hint at a flat Earth, as do passages in Psalms (75:3), and at least half a dozen other passages. It was endorsed by many members of the early Church, as were other ancient philosophies (philosophy and science were synonymous back then). There was no attempt to put down religion nor religionists in my post.
The Church has seldom spoken with one voice. While the Pope was the final authority, there have always been those who disagreed with him - and were usually branded heretic. Copernicus De Revolutionibus was placed on the Index in 1616 and only removed in 1835. This paper espoused the idea that the Earth was not the center of the universe. In 1633 the Inquisition convicted Galileo of heresy and forced him to recant his support of Copernicus.
Okay, I was a sailor. In fact, my job was navigation. Since you asked, I'll tell you. You have no idea what you're talking about.
This has nothing to do with the Vikings but I believe the Arabs sailed north and south up the coast of India and Africa using the Al Kemal (sp) plate, a square metal plate with a knotted string at the center. When in sight of land the plate held with the base on the horizon and the moved forward and backward until the North star touched the top of the plate. A knot was tied in the string at the point where it touched the nose to denote that specific headland.
Thereafter, in bad weather or out of sight of land they knew their latitude with reference to the coast of Africa or India.
Apparently the Polynesians had a similar method when sailing the huge Pacific. They used the magic gourd. A gourd with two holes in it that represented the position of the islands in relation to the north star.
Sail south and on the return find the exact latitude of your islands by using the magic gourd and turn right keeping the north star aligned at arms length with the base on the horizon. .those two holes in your water filled gourd to maintain it level in a moving environment. This way you would know when you moved either north or south of your intended track.
The height of the magician in the boat and the water level also made an artificial horizon. Navigation was always one of the dark arts.
I read about these things in a navigation book about 60 years ago which simply explained the principles before all the complexities were discussed. Of course knowledge of Longitude came much later.
OK, change that to ALMOST always. If, as you claim, I don't know what I'm talking about, then the counter-claim is that the sun is NEVER visible during full overcast.
I will not debate this with you. Too many years sailing out of Boston Harbor, in weather fair and foul, have taught me otherwise.
LOL! Thanks, leilani!
Okay, since my primary objection was to the use of "always", I'm satisfied. Although my experience has been more along the line the sun is sometimes visible through a full overcast.
To let you know where I'm coming from, the majority of my sea time was the W Pacific, but I've been in every major basin except the Arctic and the S Atlantic.
Also, in the Navy on ships without aerographers, which was every ship I was on, navigation was responsible for the hourly weather observations. So between celestial and weather obs, I've spent a lot of time looking at the sky at sea.
Thank you for your service, sir.
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