Antikythera Mechanism: Archeology of the First Computer
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Antikythera Mechanism: Archeology of the First Computer

A brief description on the discovery of the Antikythera Mechanism, the worlds first computer. Was it Archimedes, Hipparchos or some other genius of ancient times who created this work of ancient art?

The Antikythera mechanism is a great anomaly to many if not all of the archaeological world. The device upon being found in 1900 was nearly discarded as bronze scrap found with a treasure trove of other artifacts. Upon a closer investigation it was discovered that the scraps were in fact something of great value. The trouble we are presented with is that the device, a clock like mechanism, seems out of place by over a thousand years.

One of the greatest difficulties has been placing the artifact in time. Our understanding of the front dial leads archaeologists to believe the device is set for 80 B.C.E. This is because the device varies by 13.5 degrees from the start mark. This creates a 120 year variance, that could potentially mean it was created in 200 B.C.E. or 40 C.E. We can easily rule out the date of 40 C.E. as the ship carried many artifacts from approximately 80 B.C.E. We can near positively rule out 200 B.C.E. as a date as it would seem the device is calibrated using an astronomical theory from Hipparchos who was not born until 190 B.C.E. For these reasons we can be almost certain that the device was made in 82 B.C.E.

This method of dating though does not solve the problem of the devices anomalous nature. The mechanics of the time were nothing compared to it’s intricacies. The closest known mechanism of similar innovation did not come about until the 18th century in European clocks. What we do know is that Archimedes was rumored to have created devices very similar in purpose.1 The issue at hand though is of the two devices spoken of, both were accounted for during the time frame of 65 B.C.E. +/- 15 years. One in the hands of Julius Caesar, the other being kept as a heirloom of Marcus Claudius Marcellus’ family.

Interpretation of the markings on the device lead archaeologists to believe that the device was created for novices use and understanding of those calculations it makes. One initial hypothesis which cannot be true is that it was meant for seafarers, but the composition of bronze is a poor choice and the device would have lived a short life as the salt water air would quickly corrode its internal mechanics. The next hypothesis of note is the device as a display or monument in town. But, we find the device is too small to really be part of or the whole display. We also find the inscriptions all over the device that instructs how it is to be operated. It is we all this in mind that we must interpret the device as a sort of early calculator.

The device could hardly be used by anyone who was not an accomplished astronomer or mathematician. Even with the extensive instructions it just is not feasible. Though this does not limit the device as a time saving mechanism. We find that the invention and construction may have been so advanced as to have consumed vast amounts of time, but to those like Hipparchos and Archimedes the device would have made near instantaneous calculations that would have otherwise consumed immensely valuable time.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of all is the creator. We know that Archimedes was the most advanced mechanical mind of the time. We also know that of the devices he created similar to the mechanism at hand, none are any more than similar. We can most definitely rule Archimedes out as the inventor as he was neither alive in 200 B.C.E. to create it, or alive in 190 B.C.E. when the man with a properly sophisticated astronomy was born. Hipparchos can also be ruled out as his life did not extend to either of two most likely creation dates. So it is that we must conclude some student of both was able to combine their genius into such an astonishing device.

  1.  Cicero Mentions general Marcus Claudius Marcellus bringing two devices to Rome after the Siege of Syracuse.

Information regarding the Astronomical uses of the AntiKythera Mechanism

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