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In Ancient Shipwreck Find, Divers Discover Mystery Metal Linked to Mythical Island of Atlantis

"Nothing similar has ever been found."

The mythical underwater city of Atlantis is depicted. (Image source: imgkid.com)

A team of divers off the coast of Sicily has discovered dozens of pieces of ancient metals from a ship that sank 2,600 years ago.

"The wreck dates to the first half of the sixth century. It was found about 1,000 feet from Gela's coast at a depth of 10 feet," Sebastiano Tusa, superintendent of Sicily's sea office, told Discovery News.

Researchers' next challenge is to identify just what types of metals they discovered. The team of divers say the 39 pieces of metal are orichalcum, an element referred to in Ancient Greek mythology. It was also mentioned by the Greek philosopher Plato in his dialogue Critias.

In his dialogue, Plato described the mythical island of Atlantis. The island was home to the temple of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, earthquakes and horses:

"Here was Poseidon's own temple which was a stadium in length, and half a stadium in width, and of a proportionate height, having a strange barbaric appearance. All the outside of the temple, with the exception of the pinnacles, they covered with silver, and the pinnacles with gold. In the interior of the temple the roof was of ivory, curiously wrought everywhere with gold and silver and orichalcum; and all the other parts, the walls and pillars and floor, they coated with orichalcum."

However, the actual composition and origin of orichalcum is relatively unknown to this day. Most scholars can agree, though, that orichalcum is a brass-like alloy made by combining zinc ore, charcoal and copper metal, Discovery News reported.

"Nothing similar has ever been found," Tusa said. adding that scientists and researchers only know the metal from reading ancient texts and ornaments.

Although so much is unclear about the ancient orichalcum metal, Tusa said he is sure of one thing. That is the recovery of the ancient shipwreck will lend useful clues to scientists and historians.

"It will provide us with precious information on Sicily's most ancient economic history," the sea office superintendent said.

(H/T: IFL Science)

Follow Jon Street (@JonStreet) on Twitter

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