The Mystery of the Washed Up 100-Year-Old Rubber Bricks

by Owen James Burke

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(Photo: BBC)

As if English shores hadn’t been inundated with enough plastic and rubber between the floating rubber ducks and the nearly 5 million legos that went into the north Atlantic after a container ship was struck by a rogue wave, the past few years have seen a number of rubber tablets wash up along northern European coasts between Spain, Denmark and, of course, the UK.

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Tjipetir rubber plantation, Java, Indonesia (Photo: BBC)

In 2012, Tracey Williams was walking her dog along Newquay Beach in Cornwall when she spotted a rubber plate in the sand, inscribed “Tjipetir.” Two weeks later, she found another. A little research led her to find that Tjipetir happened to be the name of a tree gum (rubber before rubber) plantation in Java, Indonesia. Gutta-percha, a gum or sap from a tree endemic to the Malay peninsula, once produced everything from children’s toys to golf balls, and was constantly being shipped all around the world a century ago. But that still didn’t solve exactly where the tablets were coming from.

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(Image: BBC)

So Williams kept on the hunt for clues and finally other reports of the Tjipetir tablets began coming up. Some historians gathered that they might have been from the Titanic, but even though the Titanic was carrying gutta-percha, it would have seemed too fantastic.

Then in 2013 she was contacted by two separate individuals who chose not to be identified, but had both traced the tablets to the wreck of the World War I Japanese liner, Miyazaki Maru, which lies 150 miles west of the Scilly Isles. Recently, the wreck has undergone salvaging, and as a result of those efforts, the gutta-percha tablets have been breaking free from the vessels hold and washing ashore to the east.

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The Miyazaki Maru was taken down by German U-boat U-88 in 1917, at the very end of her voyage from Yokohama to London.

Read more at the BBC — OJB

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