“A mysterious Viking sundial found in Greenland may have helped the ancient mariners sail at the same north-south latitude across the Atlantic, new research suggests.
The study, detailed Tuesday (April 9) in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A Mathematical and Physical Sciences, suggests that the raiding Norsemen might have been even more impressive sailors than previously thought.
“It is widely accepted that Norse people were excellent mariners. Now it seems they used much more sophisticated navigational instruments than we thought before,” said study co-author Balázs Bernáth, a researcher at Eötvös University in Hungary.
Exactly how Vikings navigated the open seas has been the subject of speculation and folklore. Researchers think the Vikings used sophisticated sun compasses to find true north and relied on a “magic” crystal to navigate on cloudy days. (Scientists recently unearthed evidence of one of these Viking sunstones.)
In 1948, an archaeologist discovered a mysterious wooden artifact under the ruins of a Benedictine monastery in a fjord in Uunartoq, Greenland, which was settled by Norse farmers during the 10th century. The artifact, shaped into a half-circle, had a center hole and a zigzag engraved along its perimeter. Several lines had also been scratched onto the plate’s interior.
Some skeptics argued it was a household decoration, but most researchers thought it was an elusive Viking sun compass. Past researchers even took a similarly constructed compass aboard replica Viking ships and tested its navigational mettle.
But navigational lines scored on the compass were incomplete, so this ancient sundial wasn’t great at finding North. It was off by about one degree, which could lead to days of sailing in the wrong direction, said Amit Lerner, an ocean optics researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who was not involved in the study.”
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