The Antikythera Mechanism

© Fernando Caracena 2015

A revised version of first blog published on Apr 3, 2012.

Ancient Computers

Machines not only amplify the power of our muscles, but also that of our brains. Computing machines, or computers, are the ubiquitous mind appliances that have spread rapidly and have become an essential part of our modern living. Even in ancient times, mankind used machines to solve problems and to do complex computations. Take for example, the Antikythera mechanism discovered in an ancient shipwreck. The Antikythera mechanism was discovered in a shipwreck off Point Glyphadia on the Greek island of Antikythera. The gearbox is an analog computer(made around 150-100 BC), constructed upon astronomical and mathematical models developed by ancient Greek astronomers . The mechanism calculated the position of the Sun, Moon , selected stars and the planets known then.

Fig. 1. Replica of the Antikythera Instrument that is based on research by Prof. Derek de Solla Price. in collaboration with the National Scientific Research Center "Demokritos" and physicist CH Karakalos who carried out the x-ray tomography of the original. This mechanism has been rebuilt to show the likely operation of the original.

Computers come in two types: digital and analog computers. Analog computers are devices that work by analogy to solve a physical problem. The analog computer is a mechanical or electronic device that is built in such a way that it establishes a one to one correspondence between dial inputs and physical boundary conditions; and other dial settings resulting from the operation of the analog computer, which represent the predictions. The sundial is an analog computer.

The universe is the ultimate computing mechanism. The way it operates makes all types of computers possible. What is scientifically fascinating about the universe is the immense complexity of patterns that we find in it at all scales.

Ancient man used the stars to guide his life. Some scientists have suggested that ancient megalith structures, such as Stonehenge, are ancient astrological or astronomical observatories. In that case, the star field itself was for these people a clock, calender, and augury. Many rock structures around the world suggest that they contained built in architectural features for reading the times and seasons. Barry Fell' s controversial book, "America B. C." contain photographs of such sites.

The replica of the Antikythera  mechanism shows the likely operation of the original. A rectangular box 33 cm by 17 cm by 10 cm houses it between protective plates, which bear Greek inscriptions of planets and operational information. The mechanism contains a complex set of 32 gears of various sizes, turning at different speeds. The replica , offered by Price to the National Museum in 1980,  remains the reference for the study of the original despite  its construction's being subject to much criticism. National archaeological museum, Athens, number BE 109/1980. --edited from Wikimedia Commons.

See the following reference for a 2014 update.

Another reference for a 2023 update:

The Antikythera Mechanism

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