Orichalcum, a legendary cast metal said by Plato to line the floors and walls of Atlantis, has been found in a shipwreck off the coast of Sicily. The group of marine archaeologists that discovered the wreck have thus far found 39 ingots in the 2,600 year old wreck, an extraordinary find considering archaeologists only knew of orichalcum previously through ancient texts and few surviving ornamental objects. The ancient metal was said to be second only to gold in terms of value and was mined from Atlantis, which “flashed with the red light of orichalcum,” according to Plato.
The location of the wreck suggests the ship sunk due to a storm before arriving at port; it was a mere 1,000ft from Gela, off the southern coast of Sicily. They believe the ship had set off from either Greece or Asia Minor, though the exact location may never be known. The finding shows that Gela must have been a wealthy city at the time, dated to around the 6th century BC, producing art using orichalcum.
Scientists have hotly debated the composition of orichalcum as they previously had no samples to test. It was said to have been created by Cadmus, the mythological first king of Thebes, originally named Cadmeia. The name itself is derived from the Greek word oreikhalkos, meaning “copper mountain,” and scientists believed it to be either a gold-copper alloy, copper-zinc brass, or even possibly an alloy of gold and silver. According to Discovery News, X-ray fluorescence of the ingots show they were made from 75-80% copper, 15-20% zinc, and small amounts of nickel, lead, and iron.
So does this discovery of a legendary metal lend any validity to the legendary utopia of Atlantis? Probably not, but that won’t stop treasure hunters and marine archaeologists from looking. As Professor Sebastiano Tulsa, one of the archaeologists responsible for unearthing the orichalcum, told the Daily Mail, “I think it was a Plato metaphore. But I am happy if this story will continue to raise and feed our fantasy.”
“It is a new shipwreck unknown before this discovery,” he added. “Nothing similar has ever been found.”