“Of the combatants on the one side, the city of Athens was reported to have been the leader and to have fought out the war; the combatants on the other side were commanded by the kings of Atlantis, which, as was saying, was an island greater in extent than Libya and Asia, and when afterwards sunk by an earthquake, became an impassable barrier of mud to voyagers sailing from hence to any part of the ocean.”
Scholars have long debated the existence of Atlantis, made famous in Plato’s fractured Critias dialogue, quoted above. In myth, Atlantis was the portion of the earth allotted to the sea god, Poseidon, who fathered its people with a mortal woman.
Its civilization was described as virtuous and temperate, with architecture built from glistening, precious metals, including the red-tinted metal, orichalcum, which covered the temple of Poseidon.
On January 6, Discovery magazine announced that a dive team had recovered 39 ingots of the mythical orichalcum from a 2,600 year old shipwreck off the coast of Sicily. The oblong ingots have tarnished after two and a half millennia under the ocean, but preliminary analysis shows they are made of 80% copper and 20% zinc alloy. It would almost certainly have shone red in the torchlight.
What’s really unusual about this discovery is that an alloy made of copper and zinc goes by another name: brass. Different websites cite different ratios of copper, zinc, and lead, but despite these discrepancies, articles from Discover to International Business Times UK have uniformly named this alloy “orichalcum” and speculated on its Atlantean origins.
Atlantis holds a firm place in our hearts for two reasons. It is paradise, where humans are divine and virtuous, surrounded by unimaginable treasures and knowledge. It is also paradise lost, a depiction of divine consequences for craving more than paradise can offer.
In Atlantis live the stories of Phaethon, Gilgamesh, Qin Shi Huang, and Adam & Eve; it is a dream world where all cultures can come together in enlightenment.
Though it is unlikely that these ancient metal ingots trace back to the dream world of Atlantis, that does not mean the finding is insignificant. Shipwrecks are enormous time capsules, preserved by low levels of oxygen and relatively few erosive forces deep underwater. Though we might not find Atlantis on this ship, we will get to glimpse the remnants of a civilization long gone. That, for a history hunter, is paradise.