Friday, May 19, 2017

What is the Antikythera Mechanism and how was it discovered 115 years ago?

On 17th of May in 1902, Greek archaeologist Valerios Stais found a corroded chunk of metal which turned out to be part of the world's first computer and became known as the Antikythera Mechanism.

The Google Doodle of May 17, 2017, commemorates the 115th anniversary of the device's discovery illustrating "how a rusty remnant can open up a skyful of knowledge and inspiration".

Here is what you need to know about the device.


What is the Antikythera Mechanism?

The Antikythera mechanism is the world's first analogical computer, used by ancient Greeks to chart the movement of the sun, moon and planets, predict lunar and solar eclipses and even signal the next Olympic Games.

The 2,000-year-old astronomical calculator could also add, multiply, divide and subtract. It was also able to align the number of lunar months with years and display where the sun and the moon were in the zodiac.

The device is an intricate system of more than 30 sophisticated bronze gears housed in a wooden and bronze case the size of a shoebox built around the end of the 2nd Century BC.

A 2016 study found that the device may also have had a fortune telling function.

How was it discovered?

In 1902 Valerios Staiswas sifting through some artefacts from a wrecked Roman cargo ship at Antikythera, which had been discovered two years earlier, when he noticed an intriguing bit of bronze among the treasures.

The chunk of bronze, which looked like it might be a gear or wheel, turned out to be part of the Antikythera Mechanism.

What do we know about it?

Researchers say the device was probably made on the island of Rhodes. While there was only one device ever found, they do not think it was unique.

There are minute inscriptions on the remaining fragments of its outer surfaces which point to at least two people being involved in that, and there could have been more people making its gears, according to Mike Edmunds, an astrophysics professor at the University of Cardiff in Wales who has been studying it for over a decade.

More than a dozen pieces of classical literature stretched over a period from about 300 BC to 500 AD, make references to devices such as that found at Antikythera.
How old is it?

The instrument has been variously dated to about 85 BC, but recent studies suggest it may be even older (circa 150 BC).

The cargo ship inside which it was found is believed to have sunk around 60 BC.

How advanced is it?
The crank-powered device was way ahead of its time, its components are as intricate as those of some 18th-century clocks.

It is unclear what happened to that technology to have been lost. Its mechanical complexity would be unrivalled for at least another 1,000 years until the appearance of medieval clocks in European cathedrals.
Where can I see it?

Replicas of the ancient computing device are on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece.

The Telegraph

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