Tracey Williams walked along the beach with her dog near her home in southern England back in 2012 when she noticed something peculiar. It was a square plank with the word "Tjipetir" chiseled into it.
Not knowing what it was or where it came from, Williams took it home and put it in her backyard. She didn't give much thought to it until weeks later when she spotted another plank tucked into the sand in a nearby cove. It, too, bore the inscription "Tjipetir."
That's when curiosity-driven Williams went online to try and figure out the meaning of the word. All she found was a plantation in Indonesia that went by that same name: “I was absolutely fascinated by it," Williams said.
It wasn't long until Williams found the next clue to the puzzle: a 1900s black-and-white photo of a huge pile of the pallets which, according to Williams, was taken in the West Java province of Indonesia where Tjipetir was located.
The Washington Post reported the plantation grew percha trees used to produce gutta percha, which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as a tough plastic substance from the latex of Malaysian trees and resembles rubber.
Confident her discoveries were part of something much bigger, Williams created a Facebook page in hopes of finding more information. As it turned out, people all across Europe were finding the mysterious planks wash ashore – in Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, France, Spain and the United Kingdom.
Williams posted several photos of others who found the blocks. Here are a few of them:
In summer 2013, two people (who did not want their identities revealed) told Williams they knew where the objects came from. They claimed to know of a salvage company that was trying to recover the Japanese liner, Miyazaki Maru, which sank 150 west of the Scilly Isles in 1917 after being targeted by a German submarine. The 8,500-ton ship, they said, was carrying Tjipetir planks.
Williams said her two sources, who reportedly showed her evidence of such claims, told her that crews conducting salvages typically pull out the cargo they're looking for in large amounts. That might explain how so many of the blocks managed to escape the inside of the sunken ship.
Alison Kentuck, a U.K. government official who oversees wreck and salvage laws said she also believes the Japanese ship is the source of all those planks.
"When we are made aware of wreckage we conduct research to find the owner. We look at the age of the items, where they could have come from and examine any markings," Kentuck said.
"Our findings with these particular items pointed towards that particular wreck. So although we have not confirmed it, the Miyazaki Maru is our favored possibility as the source of the washed-up blocks," she said.
But Oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer suggested this mystery has only begun: "They're probably one of the great pieces of flotsam that people may be finding 100 years from now," he said.
(H/T: Washington Post)
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