Antikythera Mechanism: 2,000 year-old Calculator That Just Didn’t Add Up

Posted by Chris Parker | November 30, 2006 1



A 3D image of the device showing how the dials and gears might have worked

It was sunk with a wrecked ship in 80BC, found by divers in 1900 and until now has baffled scientists.

But the secrets of the Antikythera mechanism have finally been unlocked – and scientists claim it is more valuable than the Mona Lisa.

The device is a complex arrangement of more than 30 bronze gears, wheels and dials, and is at least 1,000 years ahead of its time.

Remnants of a case containing the pieces (one is pictured below) were found in a shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera in 1900.

In June this year, physicists used X-rays to read inscriptions and identified it as a clock-like astronomical calendar. But the precise function remained an enigma.

Now, after painstaking reconstruction, physicists say it could track astronomical movements with remarkable precision.

It was also able to follow the movements of the Moon and the Sun, predict eclipses and even recreate the irregular orbit of the Moon.

It may have predicted the positions of some of the planets. Lead researcher Prof Mike Edmunds, from Cardiff University, said: ‘The design is beautiful, the astronomy is exactly right. The way the mechanics are designed makes your jaw drop. Whoever has done this has done it extremely well.’

The findings, published in Nature, suggest Greek technology was far more advanced than previously thought. No other civilisation created anything as complicated for another 1,000 years.

Other marvels from the past…

– The Pyramids: In the 3rd millennium BC, there were no cranes or diggers. But the Egyptians managed to create 110 structures reaching 146m high

– The Incas: The South American empire lasted just 100 years from 1438AD, but built 22,530km of road

– Aztecs: They lived in Central America in the 14th to 16th centuries with education and religion

– Stonehenge: The Druids moved huge rocks 320km from Wales to Salisbury, Wiltshire, in the Neolithic and Bronze Age – and put them on top of each other

– A 14cm clay battery was found near the Iraqi capital Baghdad. It appears to be 2,000 years old

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