More than a hundred years ago an extraordinary mechanism was found by sponge divers at the bottom of the sea near the island of Antikythera.
It astonished the whole international community of experts on the ancient world. Was it an astrolabe? Was it an astronomical clock? Or was it something else? For decades, scientific investigation failed to yield much light and relied more on imagination than the facts.
However research over the last half century has begun to reveal its secrets. Scientists used imaging and high-resolution X-ray tomography to study the Antikythera Mechanism.
It dates from around the end of the 2nd century B.C. and is the most sophisticated mechanism known from the ancient world.
The device contains a complicated arrangement of at least 30 precision, hand-cut bronze gears housed inside a wooden case covered in inscriptions. But the device is fragmented, so its specific functions have remained controversial. The team was able to reconstruct the gear function and double the number of deciphered inscriptions on the computer’s casing. The device, they say, is technically more complex than any known device for at least a millennium afterwards.
The Antikythera Mechanism is now understood to be dedicated to astronomical phenomena and operates as a complex mechanical “computer” which tracks the cycles of the Solar System.
A new paper from the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project (AMRP) is published in the prestige science journal Nature on July 31st 2008. It reveals surprising results on the back dials of the Antikythera Mechanism including a dial dedicated to the four-year Olympiad Cycle of the games of ancient Greece.
The research team has also deciphered all the months on the Mechanism’s 19-year calendar, revealing month names that are of Corinthian origin, probably from a Corinthian colony of the western Hellenic world overturning the previous idea that the Mechanism was from the eastern part of the Mediterranean. For the first time we have direct evidence of its cultural origin.
Additional research has also transformed our understanding of the Mechanism’s sophisticated eclipse prediction dials. These results have extended the work about the complex structure of the Mechanism’s gears and dials and have added new and intriguing cultural and social dimensions.
Where did this device come from? Aliens? What are your thoughts?