Amazing Places

Ingots Of "Atlantis Alloy" Discovered On An Ancient Shipwreck

What we're about to say might shock you: Atlantis isn't real. We know, we know. It's hard to take. But real or not, it's certainly played a huge role in Western cultural history, even turning up in a few of Plato's Dialogues. Here's something strange, though: Plato also mentioned orichalcum, a metal that was mined in Atlantis but known only by name in his time. But since 2015, a Sicilian archaeologist named Sebastiano Tusa has pulled up more than 80 ingots of the metal from a shipwreck on the bottom of the ocean. So how does a fake place make a real metal?

Where Does A Mythical Metal Come From?

Okay, there's a lot to unpack here. YES, ATLANTIS IS STILL NOT REAL. The thing is, culture-shaping philosopher or not, Plato was also a bit of an exaggerator. Orichalcum wasn't really a myth, but what it actually was is somewhat up for debate. Most scholars agree that it was an especially shiny copper alloy, perhaps a combination of copper and tin (making it a form of bronze) or one of copper and zinc (meaning it was actually brass). Some have suggested that "orichalcum" was just a Greek word for all variations of copper, and others think that the metal's pseudo-mythical status originates in a lack of understanding—if the Greeks didn't know how to make the stuff, they very well might have ascribed its origins to the legendary sunken continent.

So now that we've thoroughly demystified orichalcum and possibly broken some childhood dreams, let's talk about the actual stuff that just got pulled out of the ocean. X-ray fluorescence tests (which can identify metals by the X-rays they reflect) have revealed that these 86 chunks of ore are an alloy of copper and zinc, with small amounts of nickel, lead, and iron. That makes them a relative of brass—something that was certainly rare at the time, but not nearly as valuable as Plato suggested. The ship that was carrying them was likely bound for the city of Gela, which at the time was notable for its many craftspeople and artisan workshops. Those workshops would probably have taken the ingots of orichalcum and formed them into fine jewelry and decorations.

[[The metal was found near this shipwreck.]]

The Real Treasure Is Friendship... And Historical Artifacts

Ok, so we don't get to announce to the world that Atlantis was real and that aliens probably built it. But for the guy who found it, this prize was more than enough. Sebastiano Tusa is himself the son of a famous archaeologist, and a Sicilian public servant with the unlikely-sounding position of "Superintendent of the Sea." When he found the orichalcum onboard the ship, he knew it was a major discovery for science and history alike, saying "Nothing similar has ever been found. We knew orichalcum from ancient texts and a few ornamental objects." He knows a valuable treasure when he sees it, too—in 2012, he photographed a third-century shipwreck that was likely smuggling tubular tiles made for cheap in Africa, and in 2010 he described the sunken remains of a warship that was destroyed in one of the many battles between Rome and Carthage. But for all of the historical data that he's been able to pull up from the ocean floor, he still hasn't found any evidence of a city beneath the waves. Oh well—there's still the Loch Ness Monster.

Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Videos About Atlantis

Atlantis' Mythical Metal Found in Shipwreck

National Geographic Looks For Physical Evidence

Lost Civilizations

Written by Curiosity Staff July 1, 2017

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