A group of divers who were exploring a 2,600 year-old shipwreck off the coast of Sicily discovered ingots believed to be made of orichalcum, a metal that the ancient Greek philosopher Plato wrote to have been forged in the legendary city of Atlantis.
The orichalcum, whose composition and origin remain widely debated, is said to have been invented by a mythological Greek-Phoenician alchemist named Cadmus and was considered very valuable in the ancient times it ranked next to gold.
In the fourth century B.C., Plato, one of the greatest geniuses of all time, mentioned the orichalcum in the Critias dialogue with his description of Atlantis being a realm that flashes with the red light of the mysterious metal.
He said that the orichalcum was mined there and that was used to cover the floors and structures of floors of Poseidon's temple. Many experts today believe that the metal is a brass-like alloy produced in the ancient times using a process known as cementation.
Sebastiano Tusa, Sicily's superintendent of the Sea Office, said that 39 ingots had been found by a team of divers who were exploring a shipwreck that dates back to the first half of the sixth century.
The sunken ship, which was found about 1,000 feet from the coast and at a depth of 10 feet, is believed to have likely been transporting cargo from either Greece or Asia Minor when it sank on its way to the port city of Gela in southern Sicily, probably during a storm.
Tusa hailed the finding as a unique discovery given that no similar object has yet been discovered before.
"Nothing similar has ever been found," Tusa said. "We knew orichalcum from ancient texts and a few ornamental objects."
An expert who conducted an analysis of the 39 ingots using X-ray fluorescence found that these were an alloy with up to 80 percent copper, up to 20 percent zinc and a small percentage of lead, iron and nickel.
Some experts however said that the newly found artifacts were not made from the orichalcum. Enrico Mattievich, who used to teach at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), is one of the scholars who do not think the metal has a brass-like nature.
Contrary to views of other experts, Mattievich claims that a metallic alloy characterized by fire-like reflections similar to the Plato's description was found in metallic jaguars associated with the Chavín civilization that thrived in the Peruvian Andes from 1200 B.C. to 200 B.C and these were made of 9 percent copper, 15 percent silver and 76 percent gold.