The Antikythera Mechanism: An Ancient Greek Artifact
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The Antikythera Mechanism: An Ancient Greek Artifact

An ancient Greek artifact discovered out at sea in the early 1900Â’s has left experts to believe that civilizations of antiquity may have had a further understanding of the solar system than previously thought.

Discovered in 1901, by the Hellenic Navy and the Greek Education Ministry, was the remnants of an ancient Greek ship close to the Greek island of Antikythera.  Artifacts gathered from the sunken ship were estimated to have come from the 1st or 2nd century B.C.E. and included items such as statues of philosophers, a bronze lyre, a marble bull, and a peculiar device which later came to be called the ‘Antikythera Mechanism.’    

The Antikythera Mechanism is a peculiar device because, as it is believed to have derived from the days of Greek antiquity, the technology behind the device matches 18th century clockwork almost identically.  The device contains 30 bronze gears and roughly 224 teeth.  It also appears to be precisely hand cut with elaborate un-deciphered inscriptions on both the gears and the wooden casing the device was held in.  However, much of the device had become disfigured and was left very fragile wherever it had been exposed by the sea.  Naturally this created a dilemma for experts trying to examine it.   Excavations continued on the Antikythera shipwreck until they were called off in late 1902 because of the amount of deaths that occurred due to decompression sickness from deep sea diving.  Decades of study and research from thereafter helped experts better understand that the Antikythera Mechanism was not actually one of the first clocks in existence but actually an analog computer. 

An analog computer is a machine that represents data by measurable quantities such as voltages or, in the example of the Antikythera Mechanism, gears, in order to solve a problem rather than expressing the data as numbers.  An analog computer also operates according to changing aspects of physical phenomena such as electric, hydraulic, and mechanical phenomena.  In the case of the Antikythera Mechanism, experts believe that this analog computer recorded the changing pattern of the constellations that surround the planet over a 4 year period making it an astronomical device.  X ray computer tomography in the late 1970’s through to the 90’s revealed the Antikythera Mechanism’s ability to predict both lunar and solar eclipses.        

Further study of the Antikythera Mechanism revealed that it showed replications of the Egyptian 365 day calendar as well as Greek Zodiac glyphs.  Archaeology experts from London, Greece, and the United States also agree that the Antikythera Mechanism may have been used to record Olympiads dating back to the first Olympiad in 776 B.C.E.  Currently this device is being held in the Greek National Archaeology Museum in Athens.  Standing next to it is an exact model that was constructed in 2007 for a side by side comparison.  


The Antikythera Mechanism.”  By Jarrett A. Lobell 

The Antikythera Mechanism I”  By Bill Casselman

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Comments (1)

Very informative and interesting.