World’s Oldest Message in a Bottle Discovered in a Gin Bottle

The oldest message in a bottle ever discovered has washed up on a shore in Western Australia. Only this wasn’t sent by a castaway as an S.O.S. message—rather, it’s a vestige of an old German experiment, thrown into the ocean 132 years ago.

A woman named Tonya Illman discovered the 19th-century Dutch gin bottle while walking along a beach north of Wedge Island. She originally picked it up because she thought it looked pretty, and wanted to place on her bookcase. But then her son’s girlfriend found a note inside that was written in German, and dated June 12, 1886.

When they got home, Tonya’s husband, Kym, put the message in the oven for a few minutes to dry it off, according to The Guardian. Using his basic knowledge of German, he then determined that the message was asking whomever found the bottle to write down the date and time of discovery, and then mail the bottle’s original message with this information to an address in Germany or the nearest German Consulate.

After doing some research online, Kym hypothesized that the bottle was part of a 69-year-old study of global ocean currents by the German Naval Observatory. To see if this theory was correct, the couple took the bottle to the Western Australian Museum, which investigated its origins with the help of researchers in Germany. And it turns out, Kym was right.

“From 1864 until 1933, thousands of bottles were thrown into the world’s oceans from German ships, each containing a form on which the captain would write the date it was jettisoned, the exact coordinates at the time, the name of the ship, its home port and travel route,” reported the Western Australian Museum, where the bottle is currently on display. “On the back, it asked the finder to write when and where the bottle had been found and return it.”