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The Antikythera Mechanism

For decades I have been fascinated by a small device that was discovered in 1902 off the Greek island of Antikythera, a device that today made its way into a Google Doodle in celebration of the 115th anniversary of its discovery – the Antikythera Mechanism.

This device has been called by many the world’s first computer and it is easy to see why when you study the intricate mechanisms that bear markings of astronomical symbols.  Through study of the device and it’s markings scientists have determined that the largest of the pieces so far discovered would have rotated once a year to track the Sun in relation to the stars. Inscriptions have also revealed that now missing pointers would have been adorned with colored balls; gold for the Sun, a fiery red ball for Mars…

Many of the pieces have been lost forever or still await discovery off the coast of Greece, but scientists have discovered much through a study of the parts that have been found and the inscriptions visible on those. The calendar has names that were used in Corinth in Northwest Greece. There is a dial that tracked the major athletic festivals.; including the Olympics, and lists both Naa and Halieia. Naa was held in northwest Greece while Halieia is from on the Isle of Rhodes to the south.

While the Antikythera Mechanism is hailed as being the oldest found such mechanism there is evidence of such devices predating the time the mechanism is presumed to have been made. Posidonius, an ancient philosopher believed to have made the device, had a workshop in Rhodes and created a similar model of the heavens in the first century B.C.. Going back a bit further, to the third century B.C. and there is evidence of Archimedes having made a bronze device. Going back further, to 205 B.C., when the represented eclipse cycle is believed to have began, indicates that it might have been an astronomer in Rhodes named Hipparchus, who blended the Babylonian arithmatic-based predictions with the geometiric theories of Greece, who worked out the math for the device.

Whatever the origin of the device and its intricate workings, one thing is undeniably true about the Antikythera Mechanism, it ignites the imagination with thoughts of what if science had not suffered so many setbacks and hardships throughout the course of history?

2 comments to The Antikythera Mechanism

  • I was never aware of this device before google presented it on their Google Doodle. And I’m glad they did, fun to see that some people were just as smart back then.

    It really does make you wonder what the world would be like if all the past documents weren’t somehow lost.

    • admin

      I consider the loss of the documents of the Library of Alexandria to be one of the greatest of tragedies to our knowledge base. What might have been hidden within those scrolls of papyrus that were lost? It must have been amazing given the kinds of information that survived down through the ages.

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