ORICHALCUM - the second most valuable metal then known -

orichalcum tumbaga
orichalcum/tumbaga example with 70% gold, the remainder copper and silver

Plato's Atlantis - "Something more than a name - orichalcum - was dug out of the earth in many places of the island, and, with the exception of gold, was esteemed the most precious of metals among the men of those days."
"There were mines of it in many places of the island."
"orichalcum which sparkled like fire." (Bury)
"flashed with the red light of orichalcum. " (Jowett translation)

"In the first place they dug out of the earth whatever was to be found there, mineral as well as metal, and that which is only a name and was something more than a name then, orichalc, was dug out of the earth in many parts of the island, and except gold was the most precious of metals" - , "The entire circuit of the wall... which encompassed the citadel, flashed with the red light of orichalcum. Jowett

R.G. Bury, writing in 1929 not knowing how to translate orichalcum thought that it might be a form of mountain copper, saying "they covered all the circumference of the wall which encompassed the acropolis itself [116c] with orichalcum which sparkled like fire." and adding notes, "mountain copper" a "sparkling metal hard to identify" and translates "Metals to begin with, both the hard kind and the fusible kind, which are extracted by mining, and also that kind which is now known only by name but was more then a name then, there being mines of it in many parts of the island, - I mean 'orichalcum' which was the most precious of the metals then known, except gold."

Desmond Lee translating in the pre-Internet days of 1971 did not believe either in Atlantis or in orichalcum which he called "a completely unknown and imaginery metal" but he does translate it as being "in those days the most valuable metal except gold."

There is no need to discredit orichalcum as being an imaginery metal when such a metal does in fact exist, an alloy of copper and gold is found in the Andes, when the copper is dissolved from the surface it resembles pure gold and is initially indistinguishable from gold, making it naturally the second most valuable metal after gold.

tumbaga Columbia    orichalcum Columbia

In Atlantis, the temples were also hung in sheets of gold, silver and orichalcum with pinnacles of silver and they had numerous statues in gold of their ancestors just as they had in Peru at the time of the Conquest and it is this vast wealth of gold of the Andes which helps identify it as the site of Atlantis.

Some people believe every single word of Plato's account to be true, while other people believe every single word to be totally false. Yet there are small details, like the mysterious alloy called "Orichalcum" which one translator, Sir Desmond Lee considered to be "a completely imaginary metal" but actually exists in the Andes as an alloy of gold and copper. Here is what Karen Olsen Bruhhs writing in "Ancient South America" has to say about it... "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."

tumbaga gold

The process was further explained and demonstrated by Adam Hart-Davis in his programme "What The Ancients Did For Us" screened by the "Open University" (BBC2) 2nd March 2005. Since gold was not used as a currency, it was valued more for its colour and beauty, gold being the "sweat of the sun" and silver being the "tears of the moon." Taking a small piece of Tumbaga consisting of 50% gold and 50% copper, the alloy was hammered into the shape of a miniature mask suitable for mounting on a finger ring.

  a small block of orichalcum before working       the metal is punched into the shape of a mask

At this stage it looked like polished copper before being annealed by heating with a torch to a cherry-red colour at a temperature of 500ş.

the untreated alloy of orichalcum      heated until it turns cherry-red

The alloy was then quenched in water whereby it turned black due to the copper on the surface oxidising and turning into copper oxide on top of the gold.

quenched in water it turns black due to the copper oxide
the copper oxide is dissolved in a solution of alum

The alloy was then immersed in a hot solution of Alum whereupon like some ancient alchemical process, the copper oxide dissolved away revealing a shining gold surface of quote "the most noble of the metals looking like pure gold."

l orichalcum process
left, the alum dissolves away the copper oxide to reveal a gold-like object
right, Orichalcum after the copper has been dissolved from the surface

above, orichalcum looking like gold on the left and looking like copper on the right

gold mask orichalcum tumbaga mask
Above, (left) a gold mask from the precious metals museum, La Paz.
Above (right) a mask and collar of Orichalcum

So there is nothing "imaginary" about Orichalcum.

When the Spanish conquistadores melted down some of their gold treasures to make bullion bars for shipment back to spain, they were disappointed to find a large percentage of their gold booty rurned out to be the gold copper alloy tumbaga.

Orichalcum, also known as Tumbaga, was a naturally ocurring alloy and as such the percentage of gold to copper would have varied, with a greater percentage of copper giving more of a red colour....

Copper is reflected in the very name of the country itself since "Antis" means "copper" in the Aymara/Quechua languages and is the origin of the "Andes" mountains name, one quarter of the Inca empire was called "Antisuyo" meaning "kingdom of the Antis" which was the north-eastern slopes of the Andes in Peru where the people also called "Antis" lived. There are numerous copper mines throughout the Andes but those at Chuquicamata are located on the south-west corner of the Bolivian rectangular plain, today in Chile although when Bolivia was founded in 1825 it would have been in lower Peru on the edge of the Bolivian border at the rio Loa and Bolivia at that time included a section of the Pacific coastline. According to the Wikipedia article, "it has by far the largest total production of approximately 29 million tonnes of copper to the end of 2007.... There are several versions of the meaning of Chuquicamata... another theory is that it means 'Pico de Oro' or 'Peak of Gold'... After the War of the Pacific when Chile annexed large areas of both Peru and Bolivia north of its old border, including Chuquicamata there was then a great influx of miners into the area drawn in by 'Red Gold Fever' (La Fiebre del Oro Rojo)." Red Gold? Sounds like Orichalcum!!!

Atlantis orichalcum mine
Chuquicamata, originally mines of "red gold" or "Orichalcum" is today the largest open cast copper mine in Chile and in the world.
Located a few kilometres south of the southwest corner of the rectangular plain on a route
that passes through the Rio Loa to the Pacific Ocean.

orichalcum twins
twins were a feature of Atlantis; above and below, orichalcum (tumbaga) twins.

tumbaga orichalcum twins

tumbaga    tumbaga
above, orichalcum (tumbaga)

tumbaga orichalcum
above, raft made of orichalcum (tumbaga)

above, orichalcum (tumbaga) bird

above, pre-Columbian "birdman", orichalcum (tumbaga) Smithsonian


Atlantis shipwreck
Atlantis' Legendary Metal Found in Shipwreck

Atlantis ingots orichalcum
Does metal found in a 2,600-year-old shipwreck prove that Atlantis DID exist?
Mythical red alloy said to be from the lost island is discovered off coast of Sicily (Daily Mail)

n.b. although Orichalcum as the second most valuable metal was gold plus copper, other exotic mixtures existed in a natural state such as those found above or mixtures including silver and platinum all loosely called "orichalcum".

Dear Jim, Recently I began to study Quechua and a bit of Aymara and I came across something curious. The word for "gold" in both languages (most likely loaned in Quechua from Aymara) is "quri" (pronounced as "qori"), while the word for "silver" is "qulqi" (pronounced as "qolqe"; in Quechua "qullqi/qollqe" respectively). Thus "quri qulqi" (qore qolqe) would mean "gold silver" or "golden silver" and it sounds almost as the word "orichalcum" (in some dialects of Quechua like that of Ayacucho-Chanka the uvular velar Q is pronounced as the frocative ? /"kh"/ - thus pronunciation is "?ore ?oll?e"), I would suppose that if "orichalcum" is not a Greek compound word meaning "mountain copper" ("oreikhalkos"), as some people think, but a rendering of an Atlantean word, it could refer to a gold-silver alloy, if there wasn't a specific Greek word for it ("electrum/člektron"). As for "tumbaga", which is told to be a Malay word, introduced by the Spaniards, in the Spanish article of Wikipedia I found the curious statement that the natives of the Lambayeque culture have called with this name a mixture of gold with copper AND silver (I don't know how they know it, since this is an extinct culture and the article doesn't give any sources). Thus maybe it's possible that the original native word for that alloy was indeed "quri qulqi", rendered in Greek as "orichalcum". Thus Aymara may be descendant of the language (or one of the languages) spoken in the historical Atlantis of the Andes (in the XIX century the Bolivian polyglot Emeterio Villamil de Rada believed that Aymara was the original "Adamic" language of mankind and the biblical Eden was in Altiplano). Sincerely, Emil Kolarov/Ardavarz

The Roman Latin interpretation as "aurichalcum" means gold copper.

see also gold and wealth of Atlantis

by Jim Allen, author
Atlantis: the Andes Solution
The Atlantis Trail
Atlantis: Lost Kingdom of the Andes
Atlantis and the Persian Empire
Tiwanaku: a City Lost in Time

Historic Atlantis in Bolivia