It was considered one of the most precious metals in ancient times—and Plato claimed it lined the temple of Poseidon on the legendary island of Atlantis—but this appears to be the first time anybody in modern times has actually found some orichalcum. Researchers in Sicily say a shipwreck from 2,600 years ago, not long before the time of Plato, has yielded 39 ingots of the mysterious metal, Discovery reports. Scholars have long debated the composition of the alloy mentioned in ancient writings, but testing has revealed the Sicily ingots to be a copper-zinc mix with small percentages of nickel, lead, and iron.
"Nothing similar has ever been found," says the superintendent of Sicily's Sea Office. "We knew orichalcum from ancient texts and a few ornamental objects." He tells the Giornale di Sicilia that the ingots were apparently bound for workshops in the town of Gela, probably coming from Greece or Asia Minor, when the ship transporting them sank. The find, he says, "opens prospects of great importance to the research and study of ancient routes of supply of metals in the ancient Mediterranean. ... It will provide us with precious information on Sicily's most ancient economic history." (Divers recently found a "holy grail" of shipwrecks.)