More than 100 years ago, a young German man named Richard Platz stuffed a message into a brown beer bottle, then tossed the bottle into the Baltic Sea during a nature hike.
Platz, the 20-year-old son of a baker, had no way of knowing that his message would survive two world wars, the Great Depression and the Cold War — not to mention more than a century of brutal winters and ocean storms.
Last month, a German fisherman trolling the waters of the Baltic Sea fished Platz's bottle out of the water, where it apparently had been floating since May 17, 1913. Some authorities believe that — at 101 years of age — it may be the world's oldest message in a bottle. [In Photos: Archaeology Around the World]
"This is certainly the first time such an old message in a bottle was found, particularly with the bottle intact," Holger von Neuhoff of the International Maritime Museum in Hamburg told The Guardian.
Researchers were then able to locate his granddaughter, Angela Erdmann, 62, through a Berlin-based genealogical group. Erdmann never met her grandfather, who died in 1946 at age 54.
"It was almost unbelievable," Erdmann said upon being presented with her grandfather's bottle and message, as quoted in The Local. "That was a pretty moving moment. Tears rolled down my cheeks."
Platz's bottle joins other rare finds, such as a bottle left under a rock pile in the Canadian Arctic in 1959 by Paul T. Walker, an American glaciologist. His message — describing his glacial research — was found 54 years later by other researchers.
Walker suffered a stroke during that expedition — though he was rescued by a bush pilot, he died shortly thereafter. "We were reading some of his last words," said Warwick F. Vincent, director of the Center for Northern Studies at Laval University in Quebec City, and one of the researchers who found the message.
The previous record-holder for the oldest message in a bottle was tossed overboard in 1914 and was discovered off the coast of Scotland in 2012, 98 years later. That message was one of a group of thousands that were released in Scottish waters as part of a scientific research project to track the currents of the seas around Scotland.
Platz's bottle contained a postcard with a message for the finder to return it to his Berlin address. The rest of the message is illegible, the ink having been smeared by moisture inside the bottle. Experts are now trying to decipher the entire message.