The Antikythera Mechanism

24 Mar

The Antikythera shipwreck, discovered off the Greek coast by divers in 1900, has yielded several artefacts that have been dated back to just over 2000 years ago, including coins and statues. The most important find, however, was something that is now known as the ‘Antikythera mechanism’.

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The mechanism as it appears today

This mechanism has the honor of being known as the world’s most ancient analog computer. Archaeologists and other researchers examining the mechanism have been astounded, claiming that technology didn’t even begin to approach the same level of complexity until 14th century AD Europe. That’s an enormous gap in time! But, what was it actually used for?

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Computer-generated model of what the mechanism’s front side would look like today

Scientists have found that it was used for more than one purpose, and research is still being conducted today to find out any other uses. Basically, it was used as an astronomical clock; it could determine the relative positions of the sun, moon, stars and even some planets, and also predict things like eclipses. The mechanism showed the sun revolving around the Earth on a 24-hour dial, although as we know now, it is the other way around.

It was also apparently used as a calendar, but not just your typical one-year calendar; it showed four-year cycles, each divided into one year each. This is thought to have represented the Olympic Games of the time, which occurred in two and four year cycles. On top of this, it also tracked something known as the Metonic calendar, which is a period of 19 years used by ancient astronomers for astronomical and calendar studies.

Overall, the Antikythera mechanism is definitely high on my list of the most fascinating archaeological discoveries of the ancient Greek world. Many people seem to think that complex technologies couldn’t possibly have been used by ancient peoples, but this artefact would certainly prove them wrong.

For a more in-depth discussion of the mechanism, check out the articles in Nature science journal.

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