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Antikythera Mechanism

Antikythera Mechanism - National Archaeological Museum, Athens by Joy of Museum

Antikythera Mechanism

The Antikythera mechanism is an ancient Greek analogue computer and mechanical model of the solar system used to predict planetary positions and eclipses. Discovered in 1902 in a shipwreck off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera which is located between Crete and Peloponnese. The mechanism was designed and constructed by Greek scientists at about 100 BC to 200 BC. It has been suggested that the Antikythera Mechanism was lost in the shipwreck while being taken to Rome, together with other looted Greek treasure, to support a triumphal parade being staged by Julius Caesar.

The device consisted of an elaborate clockwork mechanism with 37 gear wheels enabling it to follow the movements of the moon and the sun through the zodiac. It could predict eclipses and to model the irregular orbit of the moon. The knowledge of this technology was lost in antiquity, so that technology of this complexity and artistry did not appear again until the development of astronomical mechanical clocks in Europe in the fourteenth century.

The shipwreck was dated to about 70-60 BC and was found in 1900 by a group of Greek sponge divers who retrieved many large artefacts, including bronze and marble statues, pottery, unique glassware, jewellery, coins, and the mechanism. The mechanism was merely a lump of corroded bronze and wood at the time, and it went unexplored for a few years until it was noticed that a gear wheel was embedded in the corroded chunks of bronze debris. Not until 1971 did X-ray, and gamma-ray images of the 82 fragments lead to the recognition that this was one of the first known analogue computers.

Exploring Ancient Masterpieces

Reflections

  • Was this the world’s first computer?
  • How many more Roman-Era shipwrecks with Greek Treasure are out there?
  • Under what circumstances do technology and knowledge get lost in history?

Antikythera Mechanism

  • Name:          Antikythera Mechanism
  • Date:            150 and 100 BC
  • Material:       Bronze
  • Discovered:   1902
  • Country:        Greece
  • Dimensions: largest gear 140 mm (5.5 in) in diameter
  • Museum:      National Archaeological Museum, Athens

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“Time is the wisest counsellor of all.”
– Pericles

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Photo Credit: JOM