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It Took 120 Years, but Scientists Have Recreated an Ancient Greek Computer

Sean McDermott

Posted on March 28, 2021 05:10

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Researchers at University College London claim to have replicated the Antikythera Mechanism; an analog device dated back 2,000 years that can track and locate various planets in the solar system as well as create a decades long calendar.

Scientists released news of an epic breakthrough on what is believed to be the world's first analog computer. The device, as complicated and dynamic as it is fascinating, is called the the Antikythera Mechanism, and it is believed to be dated back to 100 BCE; more than 2,000 years ago. Since 1900 when Greek divers discovered its various pieces off the coast of Greece's Antikythera island, scientists have only been able to determine its uses and capabilities. It was used it to track and locate of each of the five planets Greeks were aware of, identify the different phases of our moon, and create a calendar decades ahead of time. 

Despite being aware of the wondrous capabilities a piece of technology from this far back in history had to offer, scientists have had a hard time completely reverse-engineering the Antikythera Mechanism. Only a third of the device's complex parts were recovered from the ancient Roman shipwreck, and recreating the rest of it, even digitally, has been a constant challenge. That is, until now. 

A team of researchers at University College London claim to have digitally recreated the Cosmos panel of the Antikythera Mechanism, and they are attempting to put together their own physical interpretation of the device based on multiple sources. They adapted research from a former curator at the Science Museum in London named Michael Wright, inscriptions located on the pieces found in the wreckage, and Greek philosopher Paramenides' mathematical computation of planetary orbit.

But why create such a device from the relics of antiquity with the technology we have now? For starters, many people have tried to recreate this particular device to no avail. Secondly, The research team hopes it will answer many more questions such as how such a device with such intricate, tiny gears could emerge from an era where only much larger gears were being used in catapults and crossbows. They are also hopeful that by recreating it, somehow it may answer where the rest of the pieces may be or why it was on a Roman ship. 

Regardless of whether those questions are answered, this device certainly challenges the impressions we have about ancient Greek technology. Thanks to 3D X-ray scanning, the Antikythera Mechanism came with a sort of user's manual. The various pieces and fragments that were recovered from the ship at the turn of the 20th century had some wording, but much of the letters were illegible and there was gaps in the wording. The application of 3D X-ray imaging closed some of those gaps and helped establish what the device was supposed to look like and what purpose certain dials performed. 

Researchers remain intrigued by the Antikythera Mechanism. Rebuilding it offers a glimpse and a passage into the mind of a genius from thousands of years ago. Its engineering was centuries ahead of its time, and 120 years after its discovery are scientists truly beginning to understand its ingenuity. 

See more about the Antikythera Mechanism here.

Sean McDermott

Posted on March 28, 2021 05:10

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Source: ScienceDaily

Researchers have solved a major piece of the puzzle that makes up the ancient Greek astronomical calculator known as the...

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