Mystery Of The Tjipetir Blocks

For the past few years, 100-year-old rubber-like blocks inscribed with the word “Tjipetir” have been mysteriously washing up on beaches in the UK and northern Europe without explanation. Tjipetir is the name of an early 20th century rubber plantation in Indonesia and the tablets are made from the sap of the gutta-percha tree, a tropical tree native to Asia and northern Australia. It was used in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries to insulate telegraph cables on the seabed. The name comes from Sundanese (tji/ci means "river" and petir means "thunder"), and literally means "Thunder River". The rubbery tablets are most likely to be made of this material, which is formed from the sap of gutta-percha trees found in the region. The most recent discovery was four rubber squares also stamped with the word ‘Tjipetir’ which were found in Newquay, Cornwall.

The mystery began in the summer of 2012 when Tracey Williams was walking her dog along a beach near her home in Newquay, Cornwall, United Kingdom, when she spotted a black tablet on the sand, made of something resembling rubber. It looked like a large chopping board and the word "Tjipetir" was engraved into it. Weeks later, she found another such curiosity on a different beach alongside bales of rubber, washed up in a cove. She began to research the origins of these mysterious blocks using social media. Eventually, the story attracted the attention of oceanographers, divers, historians, journalists and filmmakers.

Blocks of Rubber Inscribed with the word "TJIPETIR"

Many people speculated that the blocks might have come from the doomed Titanic, which sank in 1912, because gutta-percha tablets had been listed on the ocean liner’s manifest. Gutta-percha tablets were listed on the Titanic’s manifest before it sank on April 15, 1912.

But in the summer of 2013, a year after Williams found her first block, she learned another possibility. Two people reached out to her, independent of one another, saying the blocks came from a wreck 150 miles west of the Isles of Scilly, off England’s Cornish peninsula. “They both suggested the cargo was coming from this Japanese passenger ship called the Miyazaki Maru,” she said. “It was carrying passengers from Japan, heading to London.” The wreck of the
Miyazaki Maru which sank in 1917 has been put forward as potential source of the blocks but batches discovered decades ago could still be from other ships.


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