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Alderney and the Sunstone

SilfurbergLast week I had the good fortune to visit Alderney, the third largest of the Channel Islands and was absolutely bowled over not only by the fabulous beaches and quiet lanes but the history of the island just waiting to be explored.  For walking, cycling, bird watching and relaxing it would be hard to beat and I was fascinated by the miles of concrete tunnels and forts left over from the war.

Then I heard about the fabled sunstone that had been discovered in a 400 year old shipwreck off the coast of Alderney, the only one ever found!  The story goes that in 1592 a British ship sank in the English Channel near the island of Alderney, carrying a strange piece of cargo – a small, angular crystal.  Although it was cloudy and scuffed from centuries at the bottom of the ocean, its precise geometry and the proximity to the ship’s navigation equipment caught the eye of a diver exploring the wreckage. Once brought back to land, European scientists began to suspect that the mysterious object might be a calcite crystal, which they believe Vikings and other European seafarers used to navigate the seas.

A previous study showed that calcite crystals reveal the patterns of polarized light around the sun and therefore, could have been used to determine the sun’s position in the sky even on cloudy days. That led researchers to believe these crystals, which are commonly found in Iceland and other parts of Scandinavia, might have been the powerful “sunstones” referred to in Norse legends.

After a variety of physical, mechanical and chemical tests, the team determined that the Alderney crystal is indeed a calcite and could have been the ship’s optical compass.  Finding the Alderney sunstone has enthused scientists around the world and the latest reports give evidence to prove that the Viking “sunstone” did indeed exist.  It’s really rather exciting.

For anyone heading to Alderney and interested in the wrecks around Alderney it’s well worth visiting the Alderney Museum  in the capital, St Anne’s.     

Guest blogger:  Lynda George 


About the author

Avatar for Tracy Posted by Tracy

Tracy has worked in travel and tourism marketing for over 30 years. She joined Travelsmith in 1987 and enjoys her role as Sales & Marketing Manager for the group. Having moved from Essex to Cornwall in 2001, Tracy loves life in the southwest. She is married with two children, one lively Cocker Spaniel and a lazy cat. Tracy can be contacted via email: