Speed Reads

I'll send an SOS to the world

Handwriting analysis confirms the discovery of the world's oldest message in a bottle

As every good beachcomber knows, it pays to have sharp eyes. When scanning the sand dunes of Wedge Island, Perth, off the coast of Australia, Tonya Illman noticed an old gin bottle — which turned out to contain the world's oldest message in a bottle, the Western Australian Museum confirmed Tuesday.

"It just looked like a lovely old bottle, so I picked it up, thinking it might look good in my bookcase," Illman said. When her son's girlfriend went to tip the sand out, the family discovered a note inside, ABC News reports.

Illman explained: "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." Dated June 12, 1886, the note explained that the bottle had been thrown overboard from a German ship off the coast of Western Australia. It appeared to belong to a 132-year-old project to learn more about ocean currents.

To confirm the discovery, the Western Australian Museum reached out to the Netherlands and Germany and found the ship captain's journal. "The handwriting [on the note] is identical in terms of cursive style, slant, font, spacing, stroke emphasis, capitalization, and numbering style," maritime archaeologist Ross Anderson said, confirming the authenticity of the bottle.

"It was an absolute fluke," said Tonya Illman's husband, Kym Illman. "It won't get better than this."