The ancient race are believed to have to discovered North America hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus.
Now experiments have shown that a crystal, called an Iceland spar, could detect the sun with an accuracy within a degree – allowing the legendary seafarers to navigate thousands of miles on cloudy days and during short Nordic nights.
Dr Guy Ropars, of the University of Rennes, and colleagues said "a precision of a few degrees could be reached" even when the sun was below the horizon.
An Iceland spar, which is transparent and made of calcite, was found in the wreck of an Elizabethan ship discovered thirty years ago off the coast of Alderney in the Channel Islands after it sank in 1592 just four years after the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
Viking legend tells of an enigmatic sunstone or sólarsteinn that, when held up to the sky, revealed the position of the sun, even on overcast days or below the horizon, the study reveals.