World’s Oldest Known Message-in-a-Bottle Discovered on Remote Beach

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Once, not so long ago, the best option for receiving help was a hand-written note shoved into a relatively fragile container that you then hurled into the ocean. Response times varied. One of these notes was adrift for more than a century. Now, though, the message-in-a-bottle has been found, and is going viral.

“An Australian family discovered a bottle half-buried in the sand of tiny Wedge Island, about 88 miles north of Perth,” USA Today writes. “Inside was a tightly rolled piece of paper.”

“(We) were walking across the dunes when I saw something sticking out of the sand, so I went to take a closer look,” Tonya Illman said. She’s the one who found the bottle.

“The note was damp, rolled tightly and wrapped with string. We took it home and dried it out, and when we opened it we saw it was a printed form, in German, with very faint German handwriting on it.”

Illman took the note to the Western Australian Museum. The museum staff consulted with German and Dutch experts to research its history and authenticity.

So what does the note say?

“This bottle was thrown overboard on June 12, 1886 at latitude 32° 49′ South and longitude 105° 25′ from Greenwich East.”

“From: Bark Ship Paula, Port: Elsfleth, Captain: D [illegible], On her journey from Cardiff to Macassar.”

“The finder is requested to send the slip in the bottle to the German Naval Observatory in Hamburg or the nearest consulate for the return to the same agency after filling in the information on the back.”

After conferring with the German Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH) and the National Meteorological Service of the Federal Republic of Germany (DWD), the museum came to the conclusion that the note is authentic.

“Incredibly, an archival search in Germany found Paula’s original meteorological journal and there was an entry for June 12 1886 made by the captain, recording a drift bottle having been thrown overboard. The date and the coordinates correspond exactly with those on the bottle message,” Ross Anderson, assistant curator maritime archaeology at the WA Museum, noted.

The excitement of the find, though, has more to do with the age than the message. The note was part of a larger experiment, one that went on for close to 70 years, that attempted to track ocean currents by recording where bottles like this were were launched and where they were found.

“The experiments were conducted by German scientist Georg von Neumayer who became the first Director of the German Naval Observatory in 1876 and was a leading figure in drift bottle research,” USA Today notes.

“The appearance of the form from the bottle found is exactly the same as that of other forms from the year 1886, which were sent back in the following years to the German Seewarte and are available to us in the original. The forms have changed a lot over the years, but in the 1886 period the form is exactly what you have,” the BSH told the museum.

It may have made landfall a year after it was thrown over. If that’s the case, it has been on the beach, or buried in it, for more than a century.