around the head of the 68-mile-long Oslofjord, Oslo is probably the most
spacious city in the world. Its 175-square-mile metropolitan area
consists of over 75 percent forests and five percent water. Its fine
deep harbor, Pipervika, stretches into the heart of the city and from it
leave ferries to Denmark and Germany.
For centuries, a myth has existed about a special
stone used by the Vikings to navigate their maritime empire. In
fact, many historians believe that such a stone may have helped Erik
the Red discover the coast of Newfoundland in the New World, several
centuries before Columbus cited land in the Caribbean. But alas, for
a long time, the sunstone remained nothing more than a myth. That
was until marine archaeologists discovered one.
Marine archaeologists from the University of Rennes in France
discovered what they believed to be an ancient sunstone while
exploring the wreckage of the Alderney, an Elizabethan warship that
sank near the Channel Islands in 1592.
Scholars have long disputed the existence of sunstones because
they're mentioned in the Saga of Saint Olaf, a tale with many
magical elements. Marine archaeologists found the stone in the
shipwreck not more than three feet from other navigation tools,
offering proof that it had indeed been part of some navigatorís tool
kit. Researchers in a previous study proved that a fragment of
calcite crystal could be used to orient themselves within a few
degrees of the sun, even after the sun had dipped below the horizon.
The crystal found in the English Channel would be useless for
navigation today, as it has been abraded by centuries of sand and
The researchers theorized that the stone, a piece of Icelandic Spar,
would have been used because of its unique refractive qualities.
Normally, sunstone has been found in Southern Norway and Sweden, as
well as Iceland. Calcite crystals like Icelandic Spar create a
double image, splitting light into two rays. If a seaman held the
crystal east-west, the double image becomes a single image and thus
allows a sailor to locate the sun. The crystal's refractive
qualities continue to be useful even in low light, on a cloudy day,
or for a while after the sun has set.
That they discovered the crystal aboard an Elizabethan era ship
shows that it had long been used in navigation. By the 16th century,
European navigators had compasses, but the sunstone would have been
a reliable backup. Stones like the one found aboard the shipwreck
have yet to be found in Viking settlements, though recent
excavations have found fragments.
It's unlikely archaeologists will ever discover a complete crystal
in a Viking site because the Vikings preferred to cremate their dead
on funeral pyres, along with their worldly possessions.
Every year about 95 000 people die in
Sweden and, according to the law, everyone must be buried. There must be
room for everyone in the cemeteries, therefore the future needs of space
have to be predicted. Because of this funerals must be part of the
the early Middle Ages, driven by famine at home and the promise of
wealth to be had in other lands, the Vikings set out from Scandinavia to
conquer parts of England, Ireland, France, Russia, and even Turkey.
Bolstered by their successes, the Vikings pushed westward, eventually
crossing the North Atlantic and founding settlements in Iceland,
Greenland, and Newfoundland in Canada. Read
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