Marianne and Horst Winkler were enjoying a vacation on the North Sea Island of Amrum when they spotted an ordinary glass bottle on the beach. The couple soon learned that their find was anything but ordinary — they uncovered what may be the world’s oldest message in a bottle.
It didn’t carry romantic lamentations from a long-dead, lovesick young man, however. Instead, it’s the vestige of a 108-year-old science experiment that the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth, England, had long since given up on, the Telegraph reported.
This bottle is one of over 1,000 released between 1904 and 1906 to learn more about deep sea currents.
“Most of the bottles were found within a relatively short time. We’re talking months rather than decades,” said MBA’s Communications Director Guy Baker. “It’s not as if they come in and dribs and drabs. I don’t know when one was last sent in, but I don’t think it was for very many years.”
The world’s oldest message, nestled inside for 108 years, advised whoever unearthed it to “Break the Bottle.”
— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) August 21, 2015
— MBA (Marine Biology) (@thembauk) July 7, 2015
“My husband, Horst, carefully tried to get the message out, but there was no chance, so we had to do as it said,” Marianne recalled. “It’s always a joy when someone finds a message-in-a-bottle on the beach.”
The message inside was written in English, German, and Dutch, and directed the discoverer to fill out a postcard and send it on to the MBA, the Plymouth Herald reported. The Winklers did as directed, securing it in an envelope. Luckily, the MBA hasn’t changed its address since the early 19th century.
“It was quite a stir when we opened that envelope, as you can imagine,” Baker said.
As a reward, the agency offered anyone who found a bottle a shilling for returning the postcard, and it stayed true to that promise after all these years. They sent the Winklers an old English shilling it purchased on Ebay as a thank you.
The experiment of which the world’s oldest message in a bottle was a part was conducted by George Parker Bidder, the organization’s president. He released the bottles to learn more about bottom-water movements, Baker said.
“It was a time when they were inventing ways to investigate what currents and fish did. The association still does similar research today, but we have access to technology they didn’t have, such as electronic tags. Many of the bottles were found by fishermen trawling with deep sea nets. Others washed up on the shore, and some were never recovered.”
The released bottles had a special design: they floated just above the bottom of the ocean so they could be carried by deep ocean currents. At the time, Bidder recorded that they were found at a rate of about 55 percent per year, the Herald added.
With that information, he was able to prove that the deep see current in the North Sea flowed east to west, and he was able to show that plaice — a kind of flat fish — swim against that current.
There is no way to prove, however, that the Winkler’s discovery has been floating along the current all this time. It could’ve washed ashore years ago and been buried in sand.
Now, the association has applied to the Guinness Book of World Records to officially state that the discovery is the oldest message in a bottle. One sent as part of a similar experiment in 1914 was spotted in 2013 by a fisherman and currently holds the record. And in Germany last year, another was discovered that was released by a German hiker in 1913.
But Bidder’s bottle trumps both of them, and may indeed be the oldest in the world.
[Photo Courtesy Maria Mylnikova/Shutterstock]