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Oldest known message in a bottle found on beach in western Australia

SYDNEY (Kyodo) -- The oldest known message in a bottle was found in January on a beach on the western coast of Australia, 132 years after it was tossed into the ocean, according to the Western Australian Museum.

    The bottle, part of a German experiment in the 19th century, was found half-buried in the sand roughly 180 kilometers north of Perth by Tonya Illman, after her son's car became bogged in the sand.

    "It just looked like a lovely old bottle so I picked it up thinking it might look good in my bookcase," the Perth woman said in a statement released by the museum on Tuesday.

    "My son's girlfriend was the one who discovered the note when she went to tip the sand out. The note was damp, rolled tightly and wrapped with string."

    Illman said that when the family took the note home to dry it out, they saw "very faint German handwriting on it."

    The message was dated June 12, 1886, and explained that the bottle was thrown overboard from the German sailing ship "Paula," 950 km from the Western Australia coast.

    Throughout the 19th century, thousands of bottles were thrown overboard from German ships as part of an experiment by the German Naval Observatory.

    The aim of the labor-intensive experiment was to find faster and more efficient shipping routes.

    The Illman family was initially skeptical, thinking the bottle was part of a "very inventive hoax," so submitted it to the Western Australian Museum for further investigation.

    Assistant Curator for Maritime Archaeology Ross Anderson said the museum made contact with colleagues in the Netherlands and Germany as "extraordinary finds need extraordinary evidence to support them."

    After much hunting, the original Meteorological Journal of the Paula was found in Germany, with an entry for June 12, 1886, made by the captain, recording a bottle being thrown overboard.

    "A handwriting comparison of the bottle message signed by the captain and Paula's Meteorological Journal, shows the handwriting is identical in terms of cursive style, slant, font, spacing, stroke emphasis, capitalization and numbering style," Anderson said, confirming that the bottle was the genuine article.

    Of the thousands of bottles thrown overboard as part of the German experiment, the Illman family's find is the 663rd to be found.

    The previous record for the oldest known message in a bottle was 108 years between its release and discovery.


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