Tjipetir mystery
December 1, 2014 9:13 PM   Subscribe

Why are rubber-like blocks washing up on beaches? For the past few years, 100-year-old rubber-like blocks from Indonesia have been mysteriously washing up on beaches in the UK and northern Europe. The Titanic has been suggested as one of the possible sources - but now a beachcomber says she may have solved the puzzle of the Tjipetir blocks.
posted by Long Way To Go (30 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
 
Good post!
posted by Going To Maine at 10:12 PM on December 1, 2014


Little bits of plastic swept up in the North Atlantic gyre leave the Sargasso Sea on the Gulf Stream and wash up on the European coast as full grown adult blocks of rubber.
posted by ryanrs at 10:30 PM on December 1, 2014 [10 favorites]


Talk about a title to kill for on a business card: Receiver of Wreck.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:35 PM on December 1, 2014 [10 favorites]


I'd never heard of gutta-percha before, apparently it was some kind of Victorian wonder material, judging by some searching on Etsy and the bay. They made some really nifty stuff with it prior to the discovery/invention/patent trolling of vulcanization. I wonder how badly Goodyear et al disrupted the local economies a half a world away with that one.

It looks like the only thing it's used for these days is dentistry, which is kind of a shame. I bet it'd be a great rapid prototyping or home shop material, and appears to be pretty durable given the condition of those blocks.
posted by mcrandello at 10:39 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Had weird X-Files deja vu reading this article. Didn't know why at first but it was the ship's name "Miyazaki Maru". It reminded me of the "Piper Maru" episode, which tangentially also involved a Japanese ship.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 10:40 PM on December 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


Obviously the remains of the Unspeakable Bouncy Castle of R'lyeh.
posted by fallingbadgers at 10:58 PM on December 1, 2014 [31 favorites]


I vaguely recall gutta-percha is a vital element in one of the Connections series, tying all sorts of things together.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:59 PM on December 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


Ah yes, the Miyazaki Maru strategy, invented when a young Hayao hacked into a battle simulator.
posted by BiggerJ at 11:37 PM on December 1, 2014 [18 favorites]


Cool story. Gutta percha used to be used for shoe soles, specifically sneaker-type shoes or running shoes. This type of of shoe was still called a 'gutty' where I grew up in Ireland in the 1970s.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 11:37 PM on December 1, 2014 [13 favorites]


Actually just saw another post ... my dad was receiver of wrecks for Spanish Armada ships found off Ireland in the 80s. The relevant laws dated from the 1800s, and he could legally shoot anyone swimming or boating near the wrecks.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 11:45 PM on December 1, 2014 [16 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. I see it earlier and meant to read the article, but got distracted by other Internet flotsam. Interesting read.
posted by arcticseal at 12:36 AM on December 2, 2014


The Receiver of Wreck is also known as the Coroner of the Seas. Hard to say which title is better.
posted by Major Tom at 2:08 AM on December 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


See also Friendly Floatees / Moby-Duck
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:28 AM on December 2, 2014


So what cargo is on this ship that's worth doing salvage work on it today? Gold bars? The tesseract?
posted by PenDevil at 4:37 AM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Had weird X-Files deja vu reading this article. Didn't know why at first but it was the ship's name "Miyazaki Maru". It reminded me of the "Piper Maru" episode, which tangentially also involved a Japanese ship.

Did you know almost all Japanese merchant ships have the word Maru in their name? And Gillian Anderson named her daughter Piper Maru?

The more you know!
posted by valkane at 5:00 AM on December 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Oh there's a site call Wrecksite? With all the wrecks? OK that checks out. Goodbye.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:51 AM on December 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Gillian Anderson named her daughter Piper Maru?

She should have named her Queequeg Maru.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:55 AM on December 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


Gutta percha does degrade over time which, as it was once extensively used for electrical insulation, can have most amusing effects. It was also essential in the early early submarine cables, without which, etc.
posted by Devonian at 6:09 AM on December 2, 2014


It looks like the only thing it's used for these days is dentistry, which is kind of a shame. I bet it'd be a great rapid prototyping or home shop material, and appears to be pretty durable given the condition of those blocks.

And apparently you can just pick the stuff up off the ground for free!
posted by Naberius at 6:41 AM on December 2, 2014


Talk about a title to kill for on a business card your emo album: Receiver of Wreck.
posted by PlusDistance at 7:16 AM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


The way this comes out of a salvage wreck is disturbing. Basically some profit-seeking company stole the valuables out of a grave and just ignored all the other trash that floated free. Maybe that's not fair though, do underwater salvage companies have some standard of decent behavior with respect to human remains?

If anyone else was curious, gutta percha floats.
posted by Nelson at 7:19 AM on December 2, 2014


RE: Gutta percha ... Neal Stephenson "Mother Earth Mother Board" (Wired). "The hacker tourist ventures forth across the wide and wondrous meatspace of three continents, chronicling the laying of the longest wire on Earth."
posted by user92371 at 7:52 AM on December 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


Basically some profit-seeking company stole the valuables out of a grave and just ignored all the other trash that floated free.

Considering how much trash and human waste is dumped directly into the ocean, even by first world countries, this sort of thing is far down the list to be outraged about. It would be nice if they hauled the entire ships cargo to the surface and disposed of it greenly, but who would pay for that, who would even police it. Also there are small time bombs in all these ships, namely fuel-oil bunkers. When they corrode they release mini oil spills that impact wildlife. Shipwrecks from WWII and earlier still have these oil bombs intact and occasionally they show up oiling birds. There are 100s of thousands of shipwrecks.
posted by stbalbach at 8:50 AM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


A mcrandello mentioned above, gutta percha continues to be an essential part of the root canal process. An endodontist explained to me that this is due to the fact that it swells when warmed and remains so.

Interesting story. I had not heard of these blocks before.
posted by kinnakeet at 9:52 AM on December 2, 2014


PenDevil: "So what cargo is on this ship that's worth doing salvage work on it today? Gold bars? The tesseract?"

That was my question too. I felt it was odd that the BBC article mentioned this but didn't say anything about the cargo. It must be something valuable or sensitive. Maybe both.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:08 AM on December 2, 2014


I was thinking that I'd encountered mention of gutta-percha in A. A. Milne but it looks like he refers to a "big, red, india-rubber ball" in King John's Christmas.

Here's Wikipedia's list of cultural references to gutta-percha, which does include the Tjipetir blocks.
posted by larrybob at 12:13 PM on December 2, 2014


Gutta percha is also used in liquid form as a resist in silk painting.
posted by miss patrish at 7:30 PM on December 2, 2014


And apparently you can just pick the stuff up off the ground for free!

Well someone can, unfortunately I don't think The Gulf Stream brings them back around to my neck of the woods :( Maybe this should be an askme, but does anyone have an idea how one could acquire a (new) block of the stuff to play with?
posted by mcrandello at 10:03 PM on December 2, 2014


I mean, can you get any more steampunk?
posted by mcrandello at 10:10 PM on December 2, 2014


A lot of old mourning jewelry is made from gutta percha as well.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:24 AM on December 3, 2014


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