The message is more than 130 years old

Aric Jenkins
March 07, 2018

An Australian couple was taking a walk on the beach when they found an artifact that would later be recognized as the world’s oldest message in a bottle.

Tonya and Kym Illman were walking in the sand dunes of Wedge Island — a remote beach on the Western Australian coast — in January when they found the innocuous bottle and picked it up as a potential decoration for their bookcase, according to the Australian BBC.

The couple then passed it off to their son’s girlfriend, who noticed paper inside, thinking it might be a “rolled-up cigarette.” Not wanting to damage the bottle’s contents, the Illman’s decided to take the bottle home and dry out the paper in their oven.

"Then we unrolled it and saw printed writing,” Kym told the BBC. “We could not see the handwritten ink at that point, but saw a printed message that asked the reader to contact the German consulate when they found the note."

The paper was dated June 12, 1886, apparently sent from the German ship, Paula. But the Illman’s thought the idea was “too far-fetched” to be real. Still, they decided to see what the Western Australian Museum thought, and experts ended up confirming the note’s authenticity.

"Incredibly, an archival search in Germany found Paula's original Meteorological Journal and there was an entry for 12 June 1886 made by the captain, recording a drift bottle having been thrown overboard,” Ross Anderson, an assistant curator at the Western Australian Museum, told the BBC. “The date and the coordinates correspond exactly with those on the bottle message.”

Turns out when the note was written, people aboard German vessels were experimenting with throwing thousands of bottles overboard to track ocean currents. 

The previous record for a message in a bottle was 108 years old. The German contents of the Dutch gin bottle the Illman’s discovered checks out at 132 years.

“It was an absolute fluke,” Kym told the Guardian of the discovery. “It won’t get better than than this.”

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