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16th century sunstone recovered from sunken ship

Underwater archaeologists have recovered a piece of crystal from a 16th century shipwreck found at the bottom of the English Channel. The crystal, made of calcite, is known as a sunstone and was used to determine the position of the sun on cloudy days by revealing patters of polarized light.

In 1592, a British ship sank near the island of Alderney in the English Channel carrying an odd piece of cargo: a small, angular crystal. Though cloudy and scuffed up from 4 centuries at the bottom of the sea, its precise geometry and proximity to the ship’s navigation equipment caught the eye of a diver exploring the wreckage. Once it was brought back to land, a few European scientists began to suspect the mysterious object might be a calcite crystal, which they believe Vikings and other European seafarers used to navigate before the introduction of the magnetic compass.

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Story: Lizzie Wade, ScienceNow | Photo: Courtesy of the Alderney Museum

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