The accounts of orichalcum (also known as aurichalcum) are mentioned in various ancient writings, including Plato’s Critias dialogue about the famed yet fantastical continent of Atlantis. But this time around, things took a turn of reality, with researchers coming across 39 ingots of orichalcum – all of which were recovered from a 2600-year old shipwreck, off the coast of Gela, in Sicily. The impressive 6th century BC-dating find was salvaged from a sandy sea-floor just 10 ft below the ocean level; while the presumed origin of the ship is thought to be from Greece or even Asia Minor.
Harking back to ancient writings, the very term ‘orichalcum’ is derived from Greek oreikhalkos, which roughly translates to ‘mountain copper’. Later Roman transliteration of the word converted it into aurichalcum, which meant ‘gold copper’. In any case, as mentioned in Plato’s Critias dialogue, the grandiose ‘Temple to Poseidon and Cleito’ in Atlantis, was supposedly embellished with this mystery metal, thus endowing the structure “with the red light of orichalcum”. In an interesting note, Josephus also mentioned the use of the metallic substance inside the fabled Temple of Solomon.
Coming back to the contemporary side of affairs, most experts (especially from numismatics) believe that – orichalcum is a bronze-alloy with a golden hue, and it might had been used for various coins. The X-ray fluorescence analysis of the excavated ingots in question (done by Dario Panetta, of TQ – Technologies for Quality) also revealed a matching composition, with 75-80 percent copper, 15-20 percent zinc, and traces of other known metals like nickel, lead and iron.
Lastly, as for the destination of the salvaged metallic lumps, the orichalcum casts were most probably being shipped to Gela to be further refined and elaborated. As a matter of fact, by latter part of 6th century, Gela was quite a wealthy settlement with dedicated artisan-fueled workshops that produced high-quality artifacts and decorative components.