Orichalcum Discovery Confirms Atlantis?

News: A cache of orichalcum, a rare and ancient alloy, was discovered off the coast of Sicily.

Published Jan. 9, 2014

On 6 January 2015, Discovery published an article entitled "Atlantis' Legendary Metal Found in Shipwreck," detailing a finding of orichalcum (a metal mentioned in some ancient writings, including a

story of the mythical island kingdom of Atlantis related in Plato's Critias dialogue). Although nobody today knows exactly what the "orichalcum" referenced in ancient writings was (possibly a gold/copper alloy), the Discovery article predictably led many readers to conflate the supposedly unique and valuable discovery of a rare, ancient alloy (orichalcum) with a presumption that the finding represented evidence of the existence of a mythical Atlantis.

The combination of archeology and folklore proved fascinating to many readers, and on 8 January 2015 the claim was picked up by the popular blog I F*cking Love Science, who advanced both interest and confusion regarding the orichalcum finding by opening its article thusly:

When the mythical island of Atlantis submerged into the ocean, it took all of its orichalcum with it. The legendary cast metal was reputedly second only to gold in value. Now, a team of divers say they've recovered 39 blocks of orichalcum in a sixth-century shipwreck on the seafloor near Sicily, Discovery News reports.

Discovery reported the find, but did not provide any information about when the presence of the alloy had been discovered:

Gleaming cast metal called orichalcum, which was said by Ancient Greeks to be found in Atlantis, has been recovered from a ship that sunk 2,600 years ago off the coast of Sicily.

"The wreck dates to the first half of the sixth century," Sebastiano Tusa, Sicily's superintendent of the Sea Office, told Discovery News. "It was found about 1,000 feet from Gela's coast at a depth of 10 feet."

"Nothing similar has ever been found," Tusa said. "We knew orichalcum from ancient texts and a few ornamental objects."

The article later stated orichalcum is often associated with Atlantis in common lore:

Describing Atlantis as flashing "with the red light of orichalcum," [Plato] wrote that the metal, second only in value to gold, was mined in the mythical island and was used to cover Poseidon's temple interior walls, columns and floors.

Today most scholars agree orichalcum is a brass-like alloy, which was made in antiquity by cementation. This process was achieved with the reaction of zinc ore, charcoal and copper metal in a crucible.

The discovery (while valuable) was not specifically mysterious and failed to yield evidence of a lost civilization. The 39 orichalcum ingots unearthed off the coast of Sicily were analyzed and determined to be a roughly 80 percent copper and 20 percent zinc alloy containing trace amounts of iron, lead, and nickel.

Last updated:   9 January 2014

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