Sparkling ingots made of orichalcum and thought to be from the lost city of Atlantis have been found and retrieved off the ocean floor near the coast of Sicily.
The metal was recovered from a ship that sunk more than 2,600 years ago. The metal, orichalucum, was believed by the Ancient Greeks to have been found in only one place: the lost city of Atlantis.
Experts believe that the ingots from Atlantis were arriving to Gela in southern Sicily – possibly being delivered from Greece or Asia Minor. The ship carrying the metal was most likely caught in a storm and sunk just as it was about to enter a Sicilian port.
Sicily’s superintendent of the Sea Office, Sebastiano Tusa, spoke about the shipwreck and the discovery.
“The wreck dates to the first half of the sixth century.It was found about 1,000 feet from Gela’s coast at a depth of 10 feet. Nothing similar has ever been found. We knew orichalcum from ancient texts and a few ornamental objects.”
Orichalcum, the metal of Atlantis, has an ancient and mysterious history. For centuries, experts have hotly debated the metal’s composition and origin. According to the ancien Greeks, orichalcum was invented by Cadmus, a Greek-Phoenician mythological character. The Greek philosopher Plato mentioned orichalcum as a legendary metal when he mentioned it in the Critias dialogue. Plato described the city of Atlantis as flashing “with the red light of orichalcum.” Plato said that the metal, second only in value to gold, was mined on Atlantis used to cover all the surfaces in Poseidon’s temple.
Most experts agree today that orichalcum is a brass-like alloy which was actually made by cementation. This is a process whereby zinc ore, charcoal and copper metal are combined in a crucible. When analyzed with X-ray fluorescence, the 39 ingots of Atlantis metal turned out to be an alloy made with 75-80 percent copper, 14-20 percent zinc and smaller percentages of nickel, lead and iron.
Tusa commented on the importance of the discovery.
“The finding confirms that about a century after its foundation in 689 B.C., Gela grew to become a wealthy city with artisan workshops specialized in the production of prized artifacts.”
Mentioned briefly in only two of Plato’s works, Critias and Timaeus, readers have latched onto the legend of the island of Atlantis with unending fascination. Reportedly consisting of an advanced society – a utopia of sorts – that ultimately displeased the Greek gods and was sunk to the bottom of the ocean as a result. Since Atlantis was first mentioned in ancient Greece, man has attempted to determine its location, searching everywhere from the Mediterranean Sea to the polar ice caps to the South Pacific.
As of yet, however, Atlantis has remained hidden, if it ever existed at all. Is the orichalcum discovered near Sicily evidence of Atlantis? And if not, why was the metal so rarely used in the ancient world if it was so beautiful? Perhaps one day we’ll know the answers.
[Image via Donald Derek]