GELA, SICILY—Thirty-nine ingots of cast metal have been recovered from a ship that sank 2,600 years ago off the southern coast of Sicily. “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 ten feet,” Sicily’s superintendent of the Sea Office, Sebastiano Tusa, told Discovery News.
The metal is being called orichalcum, a legendary metal that the fourth-century B.C. Greek philosopher Plato attributed to the mythical island of Atlantis. “Nothing similar has ever been found. We knew orichalcum from ancient texts and a few ornamental objects,” Tusa added.
Analysis of the metal shows that it is an alloy made of copper, zinc, and small percentages of nickel, lead, and iron. The ingots were most likely destined for workshops in Gela. “It will provide us with precious information on Sicily’s most ancient economic history,” Tusa said of the shipwreck’s cargo.
Indeed orichalcum has long been considered a mysterious metal, its composition and origin widely debated. According to the ancient Greeks, it was invented by Cadmus, a Greek-Phoenician mythological character. The fourth century B.C. Greek philosopher Plato made orichalcum a legendary metal when he mentioned it in the Critias dialogue.
Describing Atlantis as flashing "with the red light of orichalcum," he 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.