What the pearl divers did not find was discovered by Japanese divers with modern equipment. They confirmed with their finds what the traditional legends of Ponape reported: the vast wealth in precious metals, pearls and bars of silver. […] The Japanese divers reported that the dead were buried in watertight platinum coffins. And the divers actually brought bits of platinum to the surface day after day! In fact, the main exports of the island—copra, vanilla, sago and mother of pearl—were supplanted by platinum! Rittlinger says that the Japanese carried on exploiting this platinum until one day two divers did not surface, in spite of their modern equipment. Then the war broke out and the Japanese had to withdraw. […]
I do not believe in the metal or platinum coffins.
Hexagonal or octagonal basalt columns, overgrown with mussels and coral, could easily be mistaken for coffins under the water. Never mind. The fact remains that Japan exported platinum from Ponape after its mandate in 1919.
Where did all this platinum come from?
Despite even the notoriously credulous von Däniken’s doubt over the authenticity of the platinum coffins, David Childress repeated the story, almost verbatim, in (as is his practice) several of his books. From there, it has become part of alternative lore, appearing in hundreds of books and websites as evidence for space aliens, Atlantis, Lemuria, African super-geniuses, and other occult ideas. Somehow, in the telling the story has mutated from divers breaking off bits of the platinum coffins to modern versions where the coffins were raised up and then melted down and cast into bars for transport to Japan. No one has ever made public a single shipping manifest or other piece of documentation proving that any platinum actually left Ponape during the Japanese mandate.
Von Däniken derives this story not from firsthand knowledge but from the explorer and artist Herbert Rittlinger, in his 1939 book The Measureless Ocean, which puts a terminus ante quem on the story. Under the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the Caroline Islands (including Ponape) were given to Japan as a mandate, taking them over from the defeated Germany. This puts a terminus post quem on the tale. This is the same Herbert Rittlinger who was a Nazi intelligence agent in Turkey for Hitler during World War II. His South Pacific trip is known to have occurred between his 1932 Turkish sailing jaunt and his 1936 Amazon sailing adventure. Therefore, the platinum, if it existed, was recovered entirely between 1919 and 1935, with an outside chance of extraction starting a few years earlier, since Japan was the occupying power on the island during World War I.
In 1920, the U.S. exported 1,102 ounces of unmanufactured platinum to Japan, according to the U.S. Geologic Survey, a number consistent with other years, implying that no new source of platinum had reached Japan at this point, at least none capable of severely affecting demand or international platinum prices, as the discovery of whole coffins made entirely of the rare metal would have done. In recent internet chatter, the “several pieces” of platinum claimed in 1939 have now become “several tons” of platinum, which would certainly have distorted world commodities markets if true. Only 3.6 million troy ounces (roughly 230 tons) of platinum are mined on earth each year, almost all of it in South Africa and North America.
Platinum was widely used throughout Southeast Asia, and as Japan colonized Southeast Asia in the 1920s and 1930s, the Japanese discovered immense amounts of platinum already in the hands of Southeast Asians, which, of course, they either confiscated outright or bought with inflated paper currency (military scrip). By the outbreak of World War II, the Japanese military had billions of dollars worth of platinum ingots, and the accused war criminal Yoshio Kodama alone had plundered millions in platinum during the Japanese occupation of China. Whatever else this means, it clearly implies that Ponape was never a primary, or even important, source of platinum for Japan.
I can’t find any evidence that platinum was ever exported from Ponape, and I ask alternative writers to please show us the shipping documents proving it existed and was exported. How can von Däniken know that platinum supplanted all other island exports if there are no export statistics showing this? Platinum does not appear in the list of exports for the island collected by the U.S. government in the 1920s, let alone as the chief export. How would he know the amount and its value to know it exceeded the value of all other products? And what type of platinum was this? Uncombined native platinum, or something refined from a sulfide? Why is there no more platinum off Ponape? The story, as given by Rittlinger, says the Japanese merely “stopped” collecting it, in 1935, because of mysterious disappearances, not because they ran out of platinum. So, surely some should still be there.
The fact is that there is simply no mention of platinum on or around Ponape in any literature I could find prior to 1939 and no wild claims of aliens or super-civilizations prior to von Däniken’s popularizing of the ex-Nazi intelligence officer’s book in 1972. In fact, the only discussions of this story occur in “alternative” books, and none has any information not derived from the English translation of von Däniken’s summary of Rittlinger in Gold of the Gods, except, weirdly, Childress, who actually tried to find the platinum coffins and failed. So, there you have it: Von Däniken doesn’t believe they exist, and Childress couldn’t find them. Yet somehow they keep rising up from their watery graves time and again thanks to the alternative world’s endless penchant for recycling material. Rittlinger, a dedicated environmentalist, would at least be proud of the recycling effort.