The Antikythera Mechanism – The 2000 year old computer

Often when we study ancient cultures we automatically assume that we are way ahead of them, and that they were not much advanced. We treat them as “barbarians” without an evidence for it. However, sometimes an artifact is found proving quite the opposite. This article is about one of those artifacts, called the Antikythera Mechanism.

For many decades, scientific investigation failed to yield much data and relied more on imagination than the facts. However, research over the last half century has begun to reveal its secrets. The single most information-rich machine, dated as around the end of the 2nd century B.C., is the most sophisticated mechanism known in the ancient world. Nothing as complex is known for the next thousand years. The shoe-box size bronze mechanism had its inscriptions barely readable, and its 30 bronze gears bearing thousands of interlocking tiny teeth were calcified when it was uncovered from the shipwreck at Antikythera, Greece, in 1901. The underwater excavation revealed beautiful bronze sculptures, ropes of decadent jewelry and a treasure trove of antique coins.

The reconstruction of the Antikythera Machine

X-Ray analysis of  the Antikythera Machine made by ancient Greek scientists and increasingly looking like the “philosopher’s guide to the galaxy,” as the Associated Press described it, revealed a text of a long explanatory “label” which helped us to understand it was dedicated to an astronomical phenomena and operated as a complex mechanical “computer” which tracked the cycles of the Solar System. It had dials that counted the days according to at least three different calendars, and another that could be used to calculate the timing of the Olympics. In addition to two rectangular plates that could be called front and back dials, there was an inscription which showed annually repeating astronomical events relating to the Sun and to fixed stars. While lunar eclipse related text probably ran down one side of the plate, and that for solar eclipse prediction down the other.

The front dial was surrounded by two scales, one representing the zodiac, the other the Egyptian calendar year. Pointers representing the stars and planets revolved around its front face, indicating their position in relation to Earth. The back plate has two large spiral dials. A tiny, painted model of the moon rotated on a spindly axis, flashing black and white to mimic the real moon’s movements. On this face, the upper five-turn Metonic Dial which included ‘Games’ dial represented a 235-lunar-month calendrical cycle while the lower four-turn Saros Dial including Exeligmos Dial represented a 223-lunar-month eclipse prediction cycle. It was planned as a 76-year “Kallippic” calendrical cycle.  The Games dial alone shows six Olympic competitions. The machine clearly showed the motion of planetary systems, possibly including Venus and Saturn as well.

Before the discovery of the device, researchers thought such technology had not existed for 1,000 years after.

All known fragments of the Antikythera Mechanism are currently held for research at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

Watch the documentary here:

Do you want to learn more about this amazing find? We recommend to read up on Wikipedia. There are also great articles about it that gives you a lot of information.

Find the wikipedia article here:

The official website about this subject can be found here:

The scientific definition of the article can be reached here:

Further reading:

Sources: Youtube, Wikipedia