Ancient adornment … The lost metal orichalcum may have been a favoured metal among craf
Ancient adornment … The lost metal orichalcum may have been a favoured metal among craftsmen fashioning objects of beauty for nobility — such as these Minoan priestesses. Source: Supplied Source: Supplied
Orichalcum or not? The metal ingots recovered off Sicily. Source: Superintendent of the S
Orichalcum or not? The metal ingots recovered off Sicily. Source: Superintendent of the Sea Office, Sicily Source: Supplied
THE mystical, ‘magical’ metal which is said to have propelled Atlantis to the heights of ancient technology may have been found in a 2600-year-old shipwreck off Sicily.
But is it really the gleaming red alloy named orichalcum?
A ship carrying 39 ingots of a red-tinged alloy metal foundered in a storm only 300m short of its destination, the port of Gela in southern Sicily. Researchers believe it was likely headed there from Asia Minor.
“We knew orichalcum from ancient texts and a few ornamental objects,” Sebastiano Tusa, of Sicily’s Sea Office, told Discovery News. “Nothing similar has ever been found.”
Separating the myth from the metal — and Atlantis — has long been a debating point among archaeologists.
Tusla himself won’t commit, preferring to say more analysis needs to be done and the wreck itself fully excavated.
A fresco found in an ancient Minoan house at Akrotiri, showing a procession of boats to t
A fresco found in an ancient Minoan house at Akrotiri, showing a procession of boats to the island with what appears to be a major palace complex built upon a central volcanic dome. Source: Supplied Source: Supplied
Atlantis envoy? The wreck being excavated off the city of Gela, Sicily. Source: Superinte
Atlantis envoy? The wreck being excavated off the city of Gela, Sicily. Source: Superintendent of the Sea Office, Sicily Source: Supplied
STUFF OF LEGENDS
Ancient Greek philosopher Plato made it — and its Atlantean homeland flashing “with the red light of orichalcum” — famous when it mentioned it in his Critias dialogue.
In particular, he said the ancient temple of Poseidon in Atlantis glinted “with the red light of orichalcum” covering it surfaces. At its heart was an orichalcum pillar onto which Poseidon’s laws were engraved.
Regarded as being second only in value to gold, orichalcum was said to be mined at the mythical island of Atlantis itself. The metal, like the civilisation, slipped beneath the waves — never to be seen again — in a cataclysmic event in antiquity.
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While its invention is attributed to the first king of Thebes who also happened to be an alchemist, Cadmus, Plato’s writings have reinforced its association with Atlantis.
Atlantis, itself long considered mythical, has since been tied to ruins of an ancient outpost of the Minoan civilisation found on the volcanic island of Santorini.
It survives in modern times as a magical metal used in armour and swords — in the realms of fantasy computer games and novels.
A reconstruction of how the island of Thera (Santorini) may have looked at the time of th
A reconstruction of how the island of Thera (Santorini) may have looked at the time of the Minoan civilisation. A Minoan palace may have been built on the central island. Source: Supplied Source: Supplied
Legend has it the alloy was composed of copper, gold and silver. The metal found in the wreck, while matching the look, does not match this recipe.
Archaeologists now believe orichalcum is an alloy similar to brass.
X-ray fluorescence analysis conducted in Italys indicates it was made from a mixture of zinc (15-20 per cent), charcoal and copper (75-80 per cent). Traces of nickel, lead and iron were also reported.
Sea Office superintendent Sebastiano Tusa said the presence of the metal in the shipwreck confirmed the status of Gela as an ancient centre of craftsmanship.
“It will provide us with precious information on Sicily’s most ancient economic history,” Tusa said of the excavated cargo.