By Tamara Alliot, MMTA
The Ancient Greeks spoke of a metal that could be found in the mythical city of Atlantis, and earlier this month this metal known as orichalcum has been found off the coast of Sicily where a ship sank around 2600 years ago.
39 ingots at around 300mm in length of the metal were found on the sea floor around 300m from Gela in southern Sicily. The composition of orichalcum is widely debated, but with most agreeing on it being ‘brass-like’. The ingots discovered have been analysed and are found to be of the following composition: 75-80 percent copper, 15-20 percent zinc and small percentages of nickel, lead and iron.
History of Metals
The metals below were known to the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks and the Romans. Of the seven metals, five can be found in their native states, e.g., gold, silver, copper, iron (from meteors) and mercury. They were first discovered as follows:
Gold 6000BC, Copper 4200BC, Silver 4000BC, Lead 3500BC, Tin 1750BC, Iron, smelted 1500BC, Mercury 750BC
The subsequent discoveries were arsenic, then antimony followed by bismuth in 1595.
The process for making the metal in ancient times was to react of zinc ore *, charcoal and copper metal in a crucible.
Information on orichalcum comes from ancient texts and a few artefacts. According to the ancient Greeks, it was invented by Cadmus, a Greek-Phoenician mythological character. The Greek philosopher Plato made orichalcum a legendary metal when he mentioned it in the Critias dialogue.
Plato described Atlantis as flashing “with the red light of orichalcum,” he wrote that the metal was mined in the mythical island and was used to cover the interior of Poseidon’s temple. In ancient times this metal was comparable to gold in value.
Enrico Mattievich, a retired physics professor, has written a book “Journey to the Mythological Inferno” in which he states that the ancient Greeks had discovered a metallic alloy “with fire-Iike reflections” similar to Plato’s description. A set of metallic jaguars matching this description exists, but these turned out to be made of 9 percent copper, 76 percent gold and 15 percent silver ,meaning that Mattievish believes that the ingots found recently are actually lumps of lantone metal rather than the orichalcum of myth.
*Centuries before zinc was discovered in the metallic form, its ores were used for making brass and zinc compounds and also for healing wounds and sore eyes.