Syrtis was the name given by the Romans to two gulfs off the North African coast; Syrtis Major which is now known as the Gulf of Sidra off Libya and Syrtis Minor, known today as the Gulf of Gabes in Tunisian waters. They are both shallow sandy gulfs that have been feared from ancient times by mariners. In the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 27.13-18) it is described how St. Paul on his way to Rome was blown off course and feared that they would run aground on ‘Syrtis sands.’
The earliest modern reference to these gulfs that I can find in connection with Atlantis was by Nicolas Fréret in the 18th century when he proposed that Atlantis may have been situated in Syrtis Major. Giorgio Grongnet de Vasse expressed a similar view around the same time. Since then there has been little support for the idea until recent times when Winfried Huf designated Syrtis Major as one of his five divisions of the Atlantean Empire.
However, the region around the Gulf of Gabes has been more persistently associated with aspects of the Atlantis story. Inland from Gabes are the chotts, which were at one time connected to the Mediterranean and considered to have been part of the legendary Lake Tritonis, sometimes suggested as the actual location of Atlantis.
In the Gulf itself, Apollonius of Rhodes placed the Pillars of Herakles(a) , while Anton Mifsud has drawn attention to the writings of the Greek author, Palefatus of Paros, who stated (c. 32) that the Columns of Heracles were located close to the island of Kerkennah at the western end of Syrtis Minor. Lucanus, the Latin poet, located the Strait of Heracles in Syrtis Minor. Mifsud has pointed out that this reference has been omitted from modern translations of Lucanus’ work!
Férréol Butavand was one of the first modern commentators to locate Atlantis in the Gulf of Gabés. In 1929 Dr. Paul Borchardt, the German geographer, claimed to have located Atlantis between the chotts and the Gulf, while more recently Alberto Arecchi placed Atlantis in the Gulf when sea levels were lower(b) . George Sarantitis places the ‘Pillars’ near Gabes and Atlantis itself inland, further west in Mauritania, south of the Atlas Mountains. Antonio Usai also places the ‘Pillars’ in the Gulf of Gabes.
In 2018, Charles A. Rogers published a paper(c) on the academia.edu website in which he identified Tunisia as Atlantis with it capital located at the mouth of the Triton River on the Gulf of Gabes. He favours Plato’s 9.000 ‘years’ to have been lunar cycles, bringing the destruction of Atlantis into the middle of the second millennium BC and coinciding with the eruption of Thera which created a tsunami that ran across the Mediterranean destroying the city with the run-up and its subsequent backwash. This partly agrees with my conclusions in Joining the Dots!
(a) Argonautica Book IV ii 1230
Tunisia has now offered evidence of human activity dated to nearly 100,000 years ago(d) at a site near Tozeur, in the south west of the country, where the chotts are today.
Tunisia was proposed in the 1920’s, by Albert Herrmann, as holding the location of Plato’s Atlantis, at a dried up saltwater lake known today as Chott el Djerid and was, according to Herrmann, previously called Lake Tritonis. Around this same period Dr Paul Borchardt, a German geologist, also favoured a site near the Gulf of Gabés, off Tunisia, as the location of Atlantis. He informed us that Shott el Jerid had also been known locally as Bahr Atala or Sea of Atlas.
More recently Alberto Arecchi has developed a theory that places Atlantis off the present Tunisian coast with a large inland sea, today’s chotts, which he identifies as the original ‘Atlantic Sea’, straddling what is now the Tunisian Algerian border. Arecchi claims that this was nearly entirely emptied into the Mediterranean as a result of seismic or tectonic activity in the distant past.
In 2018, Charles A. Rogers published a paper(f) on the academia.edu website in which he identified Tunisia as Atlantis with it capital located at the mouth of the Triton River on the Gulf of Gabes. He favours Plato’s 9.000 ‘years’ to have been lunar cycles, bringing the destruction of Atlantis into the middle of the second millennium BC and coinciding with the eruption of Thera which created a tsunami that ran across the Mediterranean destroying the city with the run-up and its subsequent backwash. This partly agrees with my conclusions in Joining the Dots!
There is clear evidence(b) that Tunisia had been home to the last wild elephants in the Mediterranean region until the demise of the Roman Empire. Furthermore, North Africa and Tunisia in particular has been considered the breadbasket of imperial Rome supplying much of its wheat and olive oil.>In particular the Majardah (Medjerda) River valley has remained to this day the richest grain-producing region of Tunisia(i).<Roman Carthage became the second city of the western empire. Although the climate has deteriorated somewhat since then, it is still possible to produced two crops a year in low lying irrigated plains of Tunisia.>Furthermore, around the mountains of northwest Africa there is an abundance of trees including Aleppo pine forests that cover over 10,000 km2 (h).<All these details echo Plato’s description of Atlantis and justify consideration of Tunisia as being at least part of the Atlantean confederation.
It is worth noting that Mago, was the Carthaginian author of a 28-volume work on the agricultural practices of North Africa. After the destruction of Carthage in 146 BC his books were brought to Rome, where they were translated from Punic into Latin and Greek and were widely quoted thereafter. Unfortunately, the original texts did not survive, so that today we only have a few fragments quoted by later writers. However, it is clear that Mago’s work was a reflection of a highly developed agricultural society in that region, a description that could also be applied to Plato’s Atlantis!
In 2017, the sunken city of Neapolis was located off the coast of Nabeul, southeast of Tunis. This city was reportedly submerged by a tsunami ”on July 21 in 365 AD that badly damaged Alexandria in Egypt and the Greek island of Crete, as recorded by historian Ammianus Marcellinus.(e)(g)” However, water from a tsunami eventually drains back into the sea, but the demise of Neapolis might be better explained by liquefaction, in the same way that Herakleion, near Alexandria, was destroyed, possibly by the same event. Neapolis and Herakleion are around 1,900 km apart, which suggests an astounding seismic event if both were destroyed at the same time!(e)
In addition to all that, in winter the northern coast of Tunisia is assailed with cold winds from the north bringing snow to the Kroumirie Mountains in the northwest(c).
Interestingly, in summer 2014, a completely new lake was discovered at Gafsa, just north of Shott el Jerid and quickly became a tourist attraction(a), but its existence was rather short-lived.
North Africa has received considerable attention as a possible location for Atlantis since the beginning of the 19th century. Gattefosse and Butavand are names associated with early 20th century North African theorists. They, along with Borchardt, Herrmann and others have proposed locations as far west as Lixus on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, on through Tunisia and Libya and even as far east as the Nile delta.
One of the earliest writers was Ali Bey El Abbassi who discussed Atlantis and an ancient inland sea in the Sahara. The concept of such an inland sea, usually linked with Lake Tritonis, has persisted with the Chotts of Tunisia and Algeria as prime suspects. There is acceptance that a seismic/tectonic convulsion in the vicinity of the Gulf of Gabés cut off this inland sea from the Mediterranean. Diodorus Siculus records this event in his third book dating it to around 1250 BC. If such an event did not occur, how do we explain the salt laden chotts? However, proving a connection with Atlantis is another matter.
Whether this particular geological upheaval was related to the episode that destroyed parts of ancient Malta is questionable as the Maltese event was one of massive subsidence.
It should be kept in mind that Plato described the southern part of the Atlantean confederation as occupying North Africa as far eastward as Egypt (Tim.25b & Crit.114c). This of course conflicts with the idea of the Atlanteans invading from beyond ‘Pillars of Heracles’ situated at Gibraltar since they apparently already controlled at least part of the Western Mediterranean as far as Italy and Egypt.
*One of the principal arguments against Atlantis being located in North Africa is that Plato clearly referred to Atlantis as an island. However, as Papamarinopoulos has pointed out that regarding the Greek word for island, ‘nesos’ “a literary differentiation between ‘island’ and ‘peninsula’ did not exist in alphabetic Greek before Herodotus’ in the 5th century BC. Similarly, there was not any distinction between a coast and an island in Egyptian writing systems, up to the 5th century BC.” In conversation with Mark Adams[1070.198] Papamarinopoulos explains that in the sixth century BC, when Solon lived, nesos had five geographic meanings. “One, an island as we know it. Two, a promontory. Three, a peninsula. Four, a coast. Five, a land within a continent, surrounded by lakes, rivers or springs.”
Personally, from the context, I am quite happy to accept that the principal city of the Atlantean alliance existed on an island as we understand the word. This was probably north of Tunisia, where a number of possible candidates exist. However, it may be unwise to rule out a North African city just yet!
Another argument put forward that appears to exclude at least part of North Africa is that Plato, according to many translations, he refers to Atlantis as ‘greater’ than ‘Libya’ and ‘Asia‘ combined, using the Greek word, ‘meizon‘, which had a primary meaning of ‘more powerful’ not greater in size. Atlantis could not have been situated in either Libya or Asia because ‘a part cannot be greater than the whole’. However, if Plato was referring to military might rather than geographical extent, as seems quite likely, North Africa may indeed have been part of the Atlantean alliance, particularly as Plato describes the control of Atlantis in the Mediterranean as far Tyrrhenia and Egypt.*
Albert Herrmann (1886-1945) was Professor of Geography at Berlin University. He was very interested in oriental geography and is perhaps best known for his 1935, Historical and commercial Atlas of China, which was widely used
His other passion was Atlantis, so that between 1927 and 1931 he declared support for Borchardt’s northwest Africa location theory in a number of publications. In 1938 he used is influence to mount a large exhibition in Berlin about Atlantis(a).
He agreed that a large dried up saltwater lake in Tunisia called Shott el Djerid was originally Lake Tritonis and was known during Solon’s time as the ‘Atlantic Sea’ and further claimed that it had been the location of Atlantis; a theory supported by of a number of investigators.>In more recent times, Charles A. Rogers is one such advocate of this identification(b).<
Herrmann suggested that it was the result of an upheaval of the land, which extended a land barrier between the Shott and the sea. He locates the Pillars of Heracles where this barrier was created. Anton Mifsud has pointed out that the 1st century BC writer Apollonius Rhodius located the Strait of Heracles in ancient Syrtis Minor, now the Gulf of Gabés, apparently supporting Herrmann’s contention. At one point, Herrmann cited as Atlantis, the village of Rhelissa, near the mouth of the old River Tritonis, which flowed into the Gulf of Gabes.
Herrmann disagreed with Plato’s 9,000 years and proposed that he had instead been referring to the 13th or 14th century BC.
Finally, Herrmann, in an effort to match this location with the Platonic narrative, felt obliged to reduce its dimensions by a factor of thirty. He claimed that the priest or interpreter at Sais had erred in the conversion of the Egyptian ‘schoinos’ into Greek stadia. The schoinos was adopted by the Greeks, where it must be noted that it, as well as the Geek stadion, had variable regional values; the number of schoeni per stadion varied between 30 and 120.
In a later book, Herrmann shifted his view from his original stance suggesting that Tunisia had been just a colony under the influence of a culture originating in Friesland, later to become famous as the source of the Oera Linda Book. It is not impossible that the introduction of a Northern European slant to his theories were the consequence of political pressure in Germany at the time, typified by Borchardt being imprisoned because of his Jewish background. Vidal-Naquet describes Herrmann as ‘an avowed Nazi’ [580.121] so pressure may not have been necessary.
Chott el Jerid is one of a series of ancient salt lakes (sometimes spelt shott or shat) in Tunisia that stretches from the Gulf of Gabés westward into Algeria, south of the Atlas Mountains. It is the second largest salt lake in the world after Salt Lake in Utah. It is maintained that ancient Lake Tritonis was located in this region and possibly incorporated Chott el Jerid and at some point may even have extended as far as an enlarged Lake Chad.
These chotts are not, strictly speaking, lakes at all today. They are flat depressed areas, which for most of the year are areas of dried mud covered with a thick skin of salt.
The largest, the Chott el Jerid, it is just a few feet below the level of the Mediterranean, according to Wikipedia. However, François Roudaire, a 19th century French geographer, surveyed the chott and reported that the entire salt lake was 15 metres above the level of the Mediterranean. This fact was confirmed by Edward Dumergue in his 1883 booklet, The Chotts of Tunis.
It is worth noting that Diodorus Siculus records that around 1250 BC catastrophic seismic activity across North-West Africa from the Gulf of Gabés to the Atlantic radically changed the topography of the region. Some investigators see this event as being responsible for the cutting-off of these inland seas from the Mediterranean creating to-day’s salt lakes. This idea is not as fanciful as it might seem at first sight when you consider the geological instability of the Central Mediterranean region. A well-known example is to be found at the Macellum of Pozzuoli near Naples which has been rising and falling over the past two millennia,*due to movements in the volcanic caldera on which it sits.*
Wintertime can produce up to a metre of water in these chotts, which by liquefying the mud makes them perfectly impassable. There is a clear suggestion that these chotts represent an inland sea that was once connected to the Mediterranean. It is believed that seismic activity in the area cut this connection. All round these salt lakes there are numerous springs, rushing from the sandy hillocks. Virtually all these springs are very near boiling point. The town of Gabés is close to a grand oasis, which is maintained by water from a stream emptying itself into the sea at Gabés after a short run.
More than one writer has placed Atlantis in this region. Paul Borchardt and Albert Hermann in the early 1920’s and more recently Alberto Arecchi have advocated this idea. Borchardt reported that the local name of Chott el Jerid was Bahr Atala or Sea of Atlas.
Arecchi concurs with this explanation and is convinced that the inland sea was the original ‘Atlantic Ocean’. He quotes the Book of Jubilees to support this contention(a).
A contributor to a June 2012 forum(b) provided a link(c) to an interesting satellite image, as well as the following list of fifteen points favouring the chotts as a location for Atlantis:
1) Atlantis did not sink to “the bottom of the ocean” instead it became a “muddy shoal only several feet below the water surface”
2) It’s to the West of both Egypt and Greece
3) The Chotts used to be a large “mega-lake” and you can use a sea-level map to simulate how large this lake used-to be
4) That mega-lake is very likely to be the mythical “Lake Tritonis” that the Greeks ascribed to this area
5) Herodotus spoke of Tritonis in relation to peoples near mount Atlas who referred to themselves as Atlanteans
6) There are Carthaginian coins from this area with Elephants (and older petroglyphs with Elephants and diverse fauna)
7) One phase of the local art was highly similar to the Minoan\Sea Peoples influence
8) The local Deity is syncretically equal to Neith (who was deemed syncretically equal to Athena by Egypt in the tale)
9) Another local Deity is syncretically equal to Poseidon
10) The tale of the Amazons is corroborated genetically from Tuscany to Corfu to this Region (the Amazons fought the Atlanteans)
11) The Berbers often claim to have a heritage from Atlantis (not a big deal, so does half the Mediterranean and South America… etc)
12) Several ancient sources claim that this “mega-lake” emptied via a geological cataclysm. The event precedes the Sea Peoples epoch.
13) The name ‘Gabes’ is arguably linguistically closer to ‘Gades’ than Cadiz (Spain).
14) Gafsa (Caspa) was legendarily the home of the Libyan Herakles and resided between two mountains
15) It’s closer proximity to Egypt and Greece make it more plausible as a Bronze Age power than Gibraltar where it would be essentially like living on the moon in that age. (In no order).
*(d) https://forums.thedarkmod.com/topic/13909-what-is-your-favorite-historical-mystery/ (link broken)*
Dr Paul Theodor Borchardt (1886-1957) at the very least could never have claimed to have lived a dull life. He came from a Jewish family but adopted Theosophy, publishing a commentary on Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled while still in his early twenties. He joined the German army and served in the Middle East during the First World War , working as a pilot and spy. After that war he explored Tunisia, which led to his contribution to Atlantology. In 1929 he became a professor of military geography in Munich, but, his Jewish background led to his dismissal in 1933 and later in 1938 was sent to the Dachau concentration camp. Intervention by a relative led to his release and emigration to Britain in 1939. MI5 were impressed by his wartime exploits and his anti-Nazi outlook.
However, Borchardt travelled to the United States and quite incredibly was recruited as a German spy by the infamous Kurt Frederick Ludwig who was already under surveillance by the authorities. When the so-called Joe K spy ring was broken up Borchardt was sentenced to 20 years in prison, narrowly avoiding the death penalty. Once again through the influence of friends he got early release and a pension.
Borchardt was convinced that Atlantis had been located in North Africa(a). He particularly favoured an area between the Chott el Jerid and the Gulf of Gabés, off Tunisia. James Bramwell notes[195.115] that Borchardt recorded the location as Ham Mam and that he had deduced that the salt lake, Chott Hammeina, was once called the “Lake of the Atlantes”, formerly known as Lake Tritonis. El Hamma (Al Hammah) is a town 30km west of Gabès.
The topography of the region together with the ruins of an ancient city near Gabés that Borchardt discovered along with with traces of irrigation canals, as well as a huge concentric feature, convinced Borchardt that he had identified Plato’s Atlantis. He believed that the Pillars of Hercules were not the mountains on either side of the Strait of Gibraltar but instead were actual pillars in a temple of Hercules in the at the Gulf of Gabés near the entrance to the chotts.
It may be worth mentioning that the Maltese archipelago, just north of Tunisia, also had an ancient temple dedicated to Hercules.
Borchardt differentiated between the island of Atlantis and the location of the citadel of Poseidon. He identified similarities between Berber tribal names and the ten kings of Atlantis e.g. Plato refers to the founder of the royal house of Atlantis as Euenor, which is claimed to be echoed in the name of Uenur, the mythical father of all the Berbers.
A 1928 newspaper report(b) is also worth a look.
Gulf of Gabés on the eastern coast of Tunisia was formerly known as Syrtis Minor. Today is contains the Tunisian oil reserves and has the distinction of having one of the few significant tidal ranges (max. 8 feet) in the Mediterranean, which exposes extensive sandbanks at low tides(b).
Inland from the Gulf are the salt marshes or chotts that originally constituted an inland sea, possibly Lake Tritonis, connected with the Mediterranean but due to a seismic upheaval a ridge was created separating them from the outer sea. A comparable event was the 2011 Fukushima earthquake which moved the seafloor 16 meters vertically and 50 metres laterally(a).
In the 19th century François Roudaire proposed the cutting of a channel from the Gulf of Gabés to the chotts, recreating the former inland sea(c).
His plan was supported by Ferdinand de Lesseps (1805-1894), who developed the Suez Canal. However, when Roudaire surveyed the chott nearest the sea, Chott el-Djerid, he discovered that it was in fact lying significantly above sea level. This forced him to revise the scale of the plan, which in turn began the erosion of support for the project, which was eventually abandoned.
It is interesting that the idea of creating a vast inland sea in the Sahara has been been raised again(d) in the context of the current climate change, which, if unchecked, will raise sea levels dramatically. The objective of this new inland sea would be to partly offset this sea level rise.
Férréol Butavand was one of the first to locate Atlantis in the Gulf of Gabés. In 1929 Dr. Paul Borchardt, the German geographer, claimed to have located Atlantis between the chotts and the Gulf. Dr. Anton Mifsud has drawn attention to the writings of the Greek author, Palefatus of Paros, who stated (cap. 32) that the Columns of Heracles were located close to the island of Kerkenna at the western end of Syrtis Minor.
Alberto Arecchi has built on the earlier work of Butavand and places Atlantis firmly in the Gulf(e) when sea levels were much lower as a result of an isthmus separating Eastern from Western Mediterranean.
George Sarantitis delivered three papers to the 2008 Atlantis Conference also locating the Pillars of Heracles in the Gulf of Gabés, which led to the ‘Atlantic Sea in modern Tunisia and Algeria, south of the Atlas Mountains and the site of Atlantis.
(d) Emancipatory Oceanic Macro-engineering Richard B. Cathcart (See Archive 5079)
Orichalcum is one of the many mysteries in Plato’s Atlantis narrative. It is mentioned five times in the Critias [114e, 116c-d, 119c] as a metal extensively used in Atlantis. I am not aware of any reference to it anywhere else in his writings, a fact that can be advanced as evidence of the veracity of his Atlantis story. Plato took the time to explain to his audience why the kings of Atlantis have Hellenised names. However, he introduces Orichalcum into the story without explanation, which suggests that the metal was something well-known to the listeners. It is therefore natural to expect that metals might play an important part in determining the credibility of any proposed Atlantis location.
Bronze was an alloy of copper and tin, while brass was a mixture of copper and zinc, their similarity is such that museums today refer to artefacts made of either refer to them as copper alloys.
According to James Bramwell[195.91], Albert Rivaud demonstrated that the term ‘orichalcum’ was known before Plato and not just invented by him. Similarly, Zhirov notes that both Homer and Hesiod refer to the metal[0458.46], , as does Ibycus, the 6th century BC poet, who compares its appearance to gold suggesting a brasslike alloy. Thomas Taylor (1825) noted that in a fragment from a lost book of Proclus, he seems to refer to orichalcum under the name of migma(c). Wikipedia also adds that “Orichalcum is also mentioned in the Antiquities of the Jews – Book VIII, sect. 88 by Josephus, who stated that the vessels in the Temple of Solomon were made of orichalcum (or a bronze that was like gold in beauty). Pliny the Elder points out that the metal had lost currency due to the mines being exhausted. Pseudo-Aristotle in ‘De mirabilibus auscultationibus’ describes orichalcum as a shining metal obtained during the smelting of copper with the addition of ‘calmia’, a kind of earth formerly found on the shores of the Black Sea, which is attributed to be zinc oxide.”
Orichalcum, or its equivalent Latin Aurichalcum, is usually translated as ‘golden copper’ referring to either its colour or composition (80% copper and 20% zinc) or both. However, Webster’s Dictionary translates it as ‘mountain-copper’ from ‘oros’ meaning mountain and ‘chalchos’ meaning copper.
Sir Desmond Lee described the metal as ‘imaginary’ without explaining away the classical references or the fact that ”In numismatics, orichalcum is the name given to a brass-like alloy of copper and zinc used for the Roman sestertius and dupondius. Very similar in composition to modern brass, it had a golden-yellow color when freshly struck. In coinage, orichalcum’s value was nearly double reddish copper or bronze. Because production cost was similar to copper or bronze, orichalcum’s formulation and production were highly profitable government secrets.”(m)
Modern writers have offered a range of conflicting explanations for both the origin and nature of orichalcum. A sober overview of the subject is provided by the Coin and Bullion Pages website(d).
In 1926 Paul Borchardt recounted Berber traditions that recalled a lost City of Brass. Salah Salim Ali, the Iraqi scholar, points out that a number of medieval Arabic writers referred to an ancient ‘City of Brass’ echoing the Orichalcum covered walls of Plato’s Atlantis.
Ivan Tournier, a regular contributor to the French journal Atlantis proposed that orichalcum was composed of copper and beryllium. Tournier’s conclusion seems to have been influenced by the discovery in 1936 at Assuit in Egypt of a type of scalpel made from such an alloy(e). An English translation of Tournier’s paper was published in Atlantean Research (Vol 2. No.6, Feb/Mar.1950). In the same edition of A.R. Egerton Sykes adds a few comments of his own on the subject.
An unusual suggestion was made by Michael Hübner who noted that “small pieces of a reddish lime plaster with an addition of mica were discovered close to a rampart” in his chosen Atlantis location of South Morocco. He links this with Plato’s orichalcum, but does so without any great enthusiasm.
Jim Allen, promoter of the Atlantis in Bolivia theory, claims that a natural alloy of gold and copper is unique to the Andes. Tumbaga is the name given by the Spaniards to a non-specific alloy of gold and copper found in South America. However, an alloy of the two that has 15-40% copper, melts at 200 Co degrees less than gold. Dr. Karen Olsen Bruhns, an archaeologist at San Francisco State University wrote in her book, Ancient South America, “Copper and copper alloy objects were routinely gilded or silvered, the original colour apparently not being much valued. The gilded copper objects were often made of an alloy, which came to be very important in all of South and Central American metallurgy: tumbaga. This is a gold-copper alloy which is significantly harder than copper, but which retains its flexibility when hammered. It is thus ideally suited to the formation of elaborate objects made of hammered sheet metal. In addition, it casts well and melts at a lower temperature than copper, always a consideration when fuel sources for a draught were the wind and men’s lungs. The alloy could be made to look like pure gold by treatment of the finished face with an acid solution to dissolve the copper, and then by hammering or polishing to join the gold, giving a uniformly gold surface”.
Enrico Mattievich also believed that orichalcum had been mined in the Peruvian Andes(b).
Jürgen Spanuth tried to equate Orichalch with amber. Paul Dunbavin links Orichalcum with Wales. Robert Ishoy implies a connection between obsidian and Orichalcum, an idea also promoted by Christian & Siegfried Schoppe, while Felice Vinci equates it with platinum.
Albert Slosman thought that there was a connection between Moroccan oricalcita, a copper derivative, and Plato’s orichalcum. Peter Daughtrey has offered [893.82] a solution from a little further north in Portugal where the ancient Kunii people of the region used ori or oro as the word for gold and at that period used calcos for copper.
Thorwald C. Franke has suggested[750.174] that two sulphur compounds, realgar and orpiment whose fiery and sometimes translucent appearance might have been Plato’s orichalcum. His chosen location for Atlantis, Sicily, is a leading source of sulphur and some of its compounds. I doubt this explanation as realgar disintegrates with prolonged exposure to sunlight, while both it and orpiment, a toxin, could not be described as metals in any way comparable with gold and silver as stated by Plato.
Frank Joseph translates orichalcum as ‘gleaming or superior copper’ rather than the more correct ‘mountain copper’ and then links Plato’s metal with the ancient copper mines of the Upper Great Lakes. Joseph follows Egerton Sykes in associating ‘findrine’, a metal referred to in old Irish epics, with orichalcum. However, findrine was usually described as white bronze unlike the reddish hue of orichalcum.
Ulf Erlingsson suggested [319.61] that orichalcum was ochre, which is normally yellow, but red when burnt. He seems to have based this on his translation of the text Critias116b. In fact the passage describes the citadel flashing in a fiery manner, but it does not specify a colour!
Other writers have suggested that orichalcum was bronze, an idea that conflicts with a 9600 BC date for the destruction of Atlantis since the archaeological evidence indicates the earliest use of bronze was around 6000 years later.
Thérêse Ghembaza has kindly drawn my attention to two quotations from Pliny the Elder and Ovid that offer possible explanations for Plato’s orichalcum(n) . The former refers to a Cypriot copper mixed with gold which gave a fiery colour and called pyropus, while Ovid also refers to a cladding of pyropus. She also mentions auricupride(Cu3Au), an alloy that may be connected with orichalcum.
Zatoz Nondik, a German researcher, has written a book about Plato’s ‘orichalcum’, From 2012 to Oreichalkos, in which he describes, in detail, how the orichalcum may be related to Japanese lacquer and suitable for coating walls as described in the Atlantis(b) narrative!
The fact is that copper and gold mixtures, both natural and manmade, have been found in various parts of the world and have been eagerly seized upon as support for different Atlantis location theories. A third of all gold is produced as a by-product of copper, lead, and zinc production.
It is also recorded that on ancient Crete, in the Aegean, two types of gold were found, one of which was a deep red developed by the addition of copper. Don Ingram suggests that the reddish gold produced in ancient Ireland is what Plato was referring to.
Irrespective of what orichalcum actually was, I think it is obvious that it was more appropriate to the Bronze Age than 9,600 BC. Furthermore, it occurs to me that Plato, who was so careful to explain or Hellenise foreign words so as not to confuse his Athenian audience, appears to assume that orichalcum is not an alien term to his audience.
The result of all of this is that Orichalcum has been advanced to support the location of Atlantis in North and South America, Sundaland, Ireland, Britain and the Aegean. Once again an unintentional lack of clarity in Plato’s text hampers a clear-cut identification of the location of Atlantis.
A fascinating anecdote relating to the use of a term similar to ‘orichalcum’ to describe a mixture of copper and gold was used by a metalsmith in Dubai as recently as 2007 and is recounted on the Internet(a) .
The Wikipedia entry(f) for ‘orichalcum’ adds further classical references to this mysterious metal.
2015 began with a report that 47 ingots of ‘orichalcum’ had been found in a shipwreck off the coast of Sicily, near Gela, and dated to around 600 BC(g). What I cannot understand is that since we never knew the exact composition of Plato’s alloy, how can anyone today determine that these salvaged ingots are the same metal. Thorwald C. Franke has more scholarly comments on offer(h). Jason Colavito has also applied his debunking talents to the subject(i). In June of the same year, Christos Djonis, in an article(j) on the Ancient Origins website, wrote a sober review of the media coverage of the shipwreck. He also added some interesting background history on the origin of the word ‘orichalcum’.
An analysis revealed(k) that those ingots were composed of 75-80% copper, 15-20% zinc, and traces of nickel, lead and iron, but no proof that this particular alloy was orichalcum. The recovery of a further 39 ingots from the wreck were reported in February 2017 and the excavation of the sunken ship continues.
An extensive paper(o) on the Gela discovery reported “that Professor Sebastiano Tusa, an archaeologist at the office of the Superintendent of the Sea in Sicily, claimed the metal they had discovered in the remains of the ship was probably the mythical and highly prized red metal orichalcum.” However dissent was not long coming, as the paper also notes that “ Enrico Mattievich, a former physics professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, believes the metal has its origins in the Chavin civilisation that developed in the Peruvian Andes in around 1,200 BC. He claims the metal alloy is made from copper, gold and silver. He claims that the discovery off the coast of Gela is not true orichalcum.” I think that both are probably wrong as we do not know the exact chemical composition of Plato’s orichalcum and both are just engaging in speculation.
The most recent explanation for the term comes from Dhani Irwanto who has proposed that orichalcum refers to a form zircon(l) that is plentiful on the Indonesian island of Kilimantan, where he has hypothesised that the Plain of Atlantis was located [1093.110].
(e) Atlantis Research Vol 2. No.6, Feb/Mar 1950, p.86
(g) See: Archive 2460
(n) See: Archive 3456