This week history nerds, metallurgists and conspiracy theorists all got some fun news. Divers discovered a cache of ingots made from the previously mysterious metal Orichalcum in an ancient shipwreck just 1,000 feet off the coast of Sicily. The ship, dated at 2,600 years old, was destined to make port at the city of Gela before being caught in a storm and wrecked just feet from the harbor. It likely came from Greece or South Asia and carried a load of precious metal to be used by Sicilian craftspeople. The story was shared with Discovery News by Sebastiano Tusa, Sicily's Superintendent of the Sea Office. This is particularly noteworthy because the idea of having a state Sea Office is about as awesome as learning that Marco Polo was real.
Before now, orichalcum was primarily known from ancient Greek texts about its mythological creator and uses. Orichalcum was supposedly second only to gold in preciousness, and Plato himself described it being mined in Atlantis and used to cover the god Neptune's gleaming temples. The way the Lost City shone with the "red light of orichalcum" has stumped historians and metal scientists who have had very few remaining examples to work with. It has also excited the curiosity and creativity of authors from Indiana Jones to Skyrim.
Having been x-ray analyzed (as fast as freaking possible, I assume) by Dario Panetta of Tecnologies for Quality, we now know that this Atlantean metal is a special blend of copper, zinc, nickel, lead and iron. Not a magical lost-city-mined single element, but still an interesting look at the ores in use 2,600 years ago.
But it wouldn't be a story about Atlantis without some controversy. According to another prominent (and eccentric sounding) researcher, this find isn't TRUE orichalcum, but more indicative of a "latone metal," a somehow significantly different alloy of copper, zinc and lead, probably with less mystical origins. Instead, he believes, the true origin of orichalcum is in the Peruvian Andes... a country with a mystical vortex of its own. Coincidence? You decide.