In 2019, an ancient funerary mask was discovered on the coast of Florida, which may be ten to twelve thousand years old. The mystery lies in the fact that it is made of a rare metal – iridium.
Iridium is a chemical element with atomic number 77 in the periodic system of chemical elements. It belongs to the platinum group of transition metals and is very hard, refractory and silvery white. Iridium has a high density, which is comparable only to that of osmium.
Iridium’s content in the Earth’s crust is very low (10^-7% by mass). It is much rarer than gold and platinum and is often accompanied by osmium, rhodium, rhenium, and ruthenium. Iridium is among the least abundant elements. It is also found in meteorites. Its actual content on the planet is probably much higher, as its high density and affinity for iron may have caused it to be displaced deep into the Earth during the formation of the planet. Small amounts of iridium have also been found in the Sun’s photosphere.
It is speculated that the mask may have been created by a civilization predating the Inca era. It was found during a search for a Spanish ship that sank in 1715 during a storm on its way from Cuba to Spain. Researchers believe that on board the ship was a valuable treasure, part of which was this mask.
The material from which the mask is made is unique – it consists of copper, gold, silver and iridium. Archaeologists assume that the mask was stolen from the tomb of a high-ranking person or even a ruler and brought to Spain as a gift to the royal family.
The mask most likely depicts the Inca god Viracocha, who is considered one of the main deities among the peoples of South America. According to myths, Viracocha is a creator deity who floated up from Lake Titicaca during a time of darkness and brought light. He created the sun, moon and stars, and then created the entire human race from stone.