Atlantis Metal Found Off Sicily

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January 10, 2016

An underwater excavation has turned up a haul of metal that legend says was found in the fabled land of Atlantis.

The metal is orichalcum, a brass-like alloy mentioned in the Critias dialogue of Plato as being second in value only to gold. The metal, 39 ingots of it, was resting in a ship that sunk 2,600 years ago off the coast of Sicily. The ship was likely bound for the port of Gela, according to Sicily’s Sea Office.

X-ray analysis found that the ingots contained mostly copper and zinc, with traces of iron, lead, and nickel. The exact makeup of orichalcum is still debated among archaeologists, although a commonly held theory is that the alloy was a product of charcoal, copper, and zinc ore.

Cadmus, a Greek-Phoenican character out of mythology, invented orichalcum, the ancient Greeks said. Plato’s Critias contained a description of a wall of the temple to Poseidon that “flashed with the red light of orichalcum.” The Critias also mentions a pillar made of the alloy.

Orichalcum also appears in the writings of Hesiod, Cicero, Josephus, and Vergil.

The word orichalcum comes from a Greek word meaning “mountain copper” or “copper mountain.” Roman translations of the Greek word became “aurichalcum,” or “gold copper.” Some Roman coins were made of orichalcum, and the Romans considered the alloy more valuable than copper.

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