A team of divers has made an interesting archeological discovery. A shipwreck from 2,600 years ago has been found off the coast of Sicily, in its cargo hold the divers discovered 40 ingots of a metal known as “orichalcum”, a metal that achieved a mythical status after Plato described Atlantis as gleaming “with the red light of orichalcum” in his Critias Dialogue.

Sebastiano Tusa, Sicily’s Sea Office superintendent said that the ship wreck was found at around 1,000 feet from the coast of Gela at a depth of 10 feet. It is theorized that the ship was arriving from Greece or Asia Minor and that it was likely caught in the storm and sunk as it was about to enter Gela’s port.

According to Plato, orichalcum was mined on Atlantis, valued only second to gold, he claimed that the metal was used to cover the interior of the temple of Poseidon. Nowadays most scholars agree that the metal is an alloy made of 75-80 % copper, 15-20 % zinc and small percentages of lead, iron and nickel which was made in antiquity by cementation, a process that was achieved through a reaction of zinc ore, charcoal and copper in a crucible.

Enrico Mattievich, a retired physics professor from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro argues that the ingots are not properly made of orichalcum, and that instead they are more of “lumps of latone”, which is an alloy of copper, zinc and lead. Mattievich is one of the scholars who disagree on the brass type nature of orichalcum. He believes that orichalcum has its origins in the Peruvian Andes and in the civilization that developed in that region from 1200 B.C. to 200 B.C.

This scholar claims, through his book ‘Journey to the Mythological Inferno’ that the ancient Greeks had discovered America, and that a metallic alloy similar to Plato´s descriptions of orichalcum was found in a set of metallic jaguars that turned out to be made of 9 % copper, 76 % gold and 15 % silver.

According to Tusa, “the finding confirms that about a century after its foundation in 689 B.C., Gela grew to become a wealthy city with artisan workshops specialized in the production of prized artifacts”. The ingots recovered from the shipwreck are thought to have been destined to these workshops where they were to be used in the creation of high quality decorations. Although the origins of this mythical metal are still unknown, Sicily’s sea office plans to carry out further expeditions in order to excavate the shipwreck and bring its mysteries to light.