The Antikythera mechanism
- My first reaction when I first saw pictures and read about the device that was found in the Mediterranean depths near the island of Antikythera was WOW !
- This device is over 2000 years old and the knowledge to make such devices was 'lost' until the middle ages.
- In the words of A.C Clarke 'we could have been colonising Mars and other planets by now, we could have been 2000 years further on than we are today'.
What is the Antikythera?
In short it is a 2000 year old geared analogue computer !
- The Antikythera computes eclipses of the sun and moon, location of the 5 known planets of the day and works out the 4 year cycle for the Olympic games. It also shows the phases of the moon. It does all this to a surprsising accuracy not achieved until the 17th century.
- The highly corroded remains of the device were brought to the surface by sponge divers.
- When archaeologists first saw the device and the obvious protruding gears they initially thought it must have been dropped from a passing ship in recent times.
- However the Greek writing on the remains have been dated to approximately 100 BC, so the archaeologist have had to accept that the Greeks were able to make complex geared mechanisms.
- There are references to a device that sounds very much like the Antikythera in ancient texts.
- Texts refer to a device designed by Archimedes
- There may have been several such devices made - some reckon as many as 10.
- Each gear was laboriously filed. The blanks for the gear must have been turned on some sort of lathe to achieve an accurate circle. No-one to my knowledge has found any tool resembling a lathe capable of producing brass disks.
- There may have been more than 10 manufactured. It would be wonderful if someone found one in their loft! I suspect there may be more of these devices out there, but owners probably would not recognise that they have a 2000 year old computer!
- To this day the device housed in the Greek National museum is the only one that has been found.
The following document explains some of the context for the Antkythera device - this paper is reproduced with the permission of the author.
|Physical and intellectual salvage from the 1st century BC.pdf|
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Another couple of interesting articles on the Antikythera mechanism with links at the end of them.
Excellent radio documentary from the BBC
This radio documentary is excellent and interviews many of the researchers directly involved in decoding the Antikythera mecahnism.
Here are a couple of videos produced by Nature describing the Antikythera Mechanism.
The following video is a lecture from Google tech talk which shows how Polynomial Texture Maps (PTM) techniques were used to decipher text on the Antikythera mechanism. 60mins