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Author Topic: ANTIKYTHERA Mechanism  (Read 3862 times)
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« Reply #30 on: August 15, 2008, 08:34:48 pm »


In early 1901, a Greek sponge diver named Elias Stadiatos discovered the wreck of an ancient large cargo ship off Antikythera island at a depth of 42 m (138 ft) to 60 m (200 ft).

Sponge divers retrieved several statues (including the famous Antikythera Ephebe) and other artifacts from the site, known as the Antikythera wreck.

The mechanism itself was discovered on 17 May 1902, when archaeologist Valerios Stais noticed that
a piece of rock recovered from the site had a gear wheel embedded in it. Examination revealed that the "rock" was in fact a heavily encrusted and corroded mechanism that had survived the shipwreck in three main parts, and dozens of smaller fragments.

The device itself was surprisingly thin, about 33 cm (13 in) high, 17 cm (6.7 in) wide, and 9 cm (3.5 in) thick, made of bronze and originally mounted in a wooden frame (a very small part of it is still in the museum).

It was inscribed with a text of over 3,000 characters, most of which have only recently been deciphered. These were part of a manual, which describes how to set up the instrument and how to use it for observations, with references to the Sun, the motion of the planets (stationary points), Aphrodite (Venus), Hermes (Mercury), and eclipses.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau visited the wreck for the last time in 1978, but found no more remains of the Antikythera Mechanism. Professor Michael Edmunds of Cardiff University who led the study of the mechanism said: "This device is just extraordinary, the only thing of its kind. The design is beautiful, the astronomy is exactly right. The way the mechanics are designed just makes your jaw drop. Whoever has done this has done it extremely carefully." He added: " terms of historic and scarcity value, I have to regard this mechanism as being more valuable than the Mona Lisa."

The device is displayed in the Bronze Collection of the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, accompanied by a reconstruction made and offered to the museum by Derek de Solla Price. Other reconstructions are on display at the American Computer Museum in Bozeman, Montana and the Children's Museum of Manhattan in New York.
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« Reply #31 on: August 15, 2008, 08:38:57 pm »


The mechanism is the oldest known complex scientific instrument.

It has several accurate scales, and is essentially an analog computer made with gears. It is based on theories of astronomy and mathematics developed by Greek astronomers.

It is estimated that it was constructed around 150 to 100 BC. The circumstances under which it came to be on the cargo ship are unclear. The ship is estimated to have sunk between 80 to 60 BC and was a Roman or Greek ship with cargo for Rome, perhaps part of official loot. It contained more than 100 statues similar to the ones the Romans took to Italy after their conquest of Greece.

Consensus among scholars is that the mechanism itself was made in Greece.  All the instructions of the mechanism are written in Greek.

One hypothesis is that the device was constructed at an academy founded by the ancient Stoic philosopher Posidonius on the Greek island of Rhodes, which at the time was known as a centre of astronomy and mechanical engineering. Investigators have suggested that the ship could have been carrying it to Rome, together with other treasure looted from the island to support a triumphal parade being staged by Julius Caesar.

As the new finds of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project suggest that it was made around 150 to 100 BC, well before the time of Posidonius, it is possible that the astronomer Hipparchus was the engineer who constructed it. Hipparchus was the most important astronomer of that time and worked for a long period in Rhodes, Greece. The Mechanism contains a lunar mechanism which uses Hipparchus' theory for the motion of the Moon and this also suggests strong ties of the Mechanism to Hipparchus.

The most recent published findings of The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project, as published in the July 30, 2008 edition of Nature, indicate that the concept for the mechanism originated in the colonies of Corinth in Sicily which implies a connection with Archimedes.
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« Reply #32 on: August 15, 2008, 08:44:09 pm »


The device is remarkable for the level of miniaturization and for the complexity of its parts, which is comparable to that of 18th century clocks. It has over 30 gears, although Michael Wright has suggested as many as 72 gears, with teeth formed through equilateral triangles. When a date was entered via a crank (now lost), the mechanism calculated the position of the Sun, Moon or other astronomical information such as the location of other planets.

It is possible that the mechanism is based on heliocentric principles, rather than the then-dominant geocentric view espoused by Aristotle and others. The heliocentric view proposed by Aristarchus of Samos (310 BC - c. 230 BC) did not receive widespread recognition, but provides for the possibility of the existence of such a system at this time.

The mechanism has three main dials, one on the front, and two on the back.

The front dial has two concentric scales. The outer ring is marked off with the days of the 365-day Egyptian calendar, or the Sothic year, based on the Sothic cycle. Inside this, there is a second dial marked with the Greek signs of the Zodiac and divided into degrees. The calendar dial can be moved to adjust, to compensate for the effect of the extra quarter day in the year (there are almost 365.25 days per year) by turning the scale backwards one day every four years.

Note that the Julian calendar, the first calendar of the region to contain leap years, was not introduced until about 46 B.C., up to a century after the device was said to have been built (and it was implemented with errors until the early first century).

The front dial probably carried at least three hands, one showing the date, and two others showing the positions of the Sun and the Moon. The Moon indicator is adjusted to show the first anomaly of the Moon's orbit. It is reasonable to suppose the Sun indicator had a similar adjustment, but any gearing for this mechanism (if it existed) has been lost. The front dial also includes a second mechanism with a spherical model of the Moon that displays the lunar phase.

There is reference in the inscriptions for the planets Mars and Venus, and it would have certainly been within the capabilities of the maker of this mechanism to include gearing to show their positions. There is some speculation that the mechanism may have had indicators for all the five planets known to the Greeks. None of the gearing, except for one unaccounted gear, for such planetary mechanisms survives.

Finally, the front dial includes a parapegma, a precursor to the modern day Almanac, which was used to mark the rising and setting of specific stars. Each star is thought to be identified by Greek characters which cross reference details inscribed on the mechanism.

The upper back dial is in the form of a spiral, with 47 divisions per turn, displaying the 235 months of the 19 year Metonic cycle. This dial contains a smaller subsidiary dial which displays the 76 year Callippic cycle. (There are 4 Metonic cycles within 1 Callippic cycle.) Both of these cycles are important in fixing calendars.

The lower back dial is also in the form of a spiral, with 223 divisions showing the Saros cycle; it also has a smaller subsidiary dial which displays the 54 year "Triple Saros" or "Exeligmos" cycle. (The Saros cycle, discovered by the Chaldeans, is a period of approximately 18 years 11 days 8 hours -- the length of time between occurrences of a particular eclipse.)

The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project, with experts from Britain, Greece and the United States, detected in July 2008 the word "Olympia" on a bronze dial thought to display the 76 year Callippic cycle, as well as the names of other games in ancient Greece, and probably used to track dates of the ancient Olympic games.

According to BBC news,

"The four sectors of the dial are inscribed with a year number and two Panhellenic Games: the "crown" games of Isthmia, Olympia, Nemea and Pythia; and two lesser games: Naa (held at Dodona) and a second game which has not yet been deciphered".
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« Reply #33 on: August 15, 2008, 08:49:25 pm »

Speculation about its purpose

While a century of research is finally answering the question of what the mechanism did, we are actually no nearer to answering the question of what it was for. There are numerous suggestions, any of which could be right. In order to understand the significance of this device at the period of its manufacture (c. 150 B.C.) one should be aware of the known scientific and cultural status at that period and take into account that:

The law of gravity was not discovered, so the reason for the movement of the heavenly bodies was not understood.

The theory of planetary motion was not complete.

The only means of transmitting knowledge were either speech or handwritten manuscripts.

However, it is not necessary to have a theory of planetary motion to compute planetary positions. The Babylonian 'System B', the mathematical formulae which calculated planetary positions, and which the Greeks inherited, was devised by 260 BCE, and perhaps as early as 500 BCE.

There was a huge scientific and cultural gap between the very few educated elite who understood basic rules of solar, lunar and planetary motion and the common people who were ignorant of those things. Many ancient references from Cicero, Pliny, Plato, Seneca, Ptolemy, Aristotle et al indicate that common people viewed solar and lunar eclipses as supernatural events, linked with fear: "... easy for the ignorant to imagine that all has become confusion and doom".

Practical uses of this device have also been said to include the following:

Astrology was commonly practiced in the ancient world. In order to create an astrological chart, the configuration of the heavens at a particular point of time is needed. It can be very difficult and time-consuming to work this out by hand, and a mechanism such as this would have made an astrologer's work much easier.

Setting the dates of religious festivals connected with astronomical events.

Adjusting calendars, which were based on lunar cycles as well as the solar year.

Price suggested that it might have been on public display, possibly in a museum or public hall in Rhodes. The island was known for its displays of mechanical engineering, particularly automata, which apparently were a specialty of the Rhodians. Pindar, one of the nine lyric poets of ancient Greece, said this of Rhodes in his seventh Olympic Ode:

"The animated figures stand

Adorning every public street

And seem to breathe in stone, or

Move their marble feet."

Arguments against it being on public display include:

a) The device is rather small, indicating that the designer was aiming for compactness (it has been compared to a modern laptop computer) and, as a result, the size of the front and back dials is unsuitable for public display. A simple comparison with size of the Tower of the Winds in Athens could give us a hint to suggest that the aim of the Antikythera mechanism manufacturer was the mobility of this device rather than its public display in a fixed place (such as a university, a temple, a museum or public hall).

b) The mechanism had door plates attached to it that contain at least 2000 characters, forming what members of the Antikythera mechanism research project often refer to as an instruction manual for the mechanism. The neat attachment of this manual to the mechanism itself implies ease of transport and personal use.

c) The existence of this "instruction manual" implies that the device was constructed by an expert scientist and mechanic in order to be used by a non-expert traveler (the text gives a lot of information associated with well known geographical locations of the Mediterranean area[citation needed]).
The device is unlikely to have been intended for navigation use because:

a) Some data, such as eclipse predictions, are unnecessary for navigation.

b) The harsh environment of the sea would corrode the gears in a short period of time, rendering it useless.

On 30 July 2008, scientists reported new findings in the journal Nature showing that the mechanism tracked the Metonic calendar, predicted solar eclipses, and calculated the timing of the Ancient Olympic Games.

Inscriptions on the instrument closely match the names of the months on calendars from Illyria and Epirus in northwestern Greece and with the island of Corfu.
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« Reply #34 on: August 15, 2008, 08:57:42 pm »

Similar devices in ancient literature

Cicero's De re publica, a 1st century BC philosophical dialogue, mentions two machines that function as a planetarium or orrery, predicting the movements of the Sun, the Moon, and the five planets.

The first device was built by Archimedes and brought to Rome by the Roman general Marcus Claudius Marcellus after the death of Archimedes at the siege of Syracuse in 212 BC. Marcellus had a high respect for Archimedes and this was the only item he kept from the siege. The device was kept as a family heirloom, and Cicero was shown it by Gallus about 150 years later. Gallus gave a 'learned explanation' of it and demonstrated it for Cicero.

"Hanc sphaeram Gallus cum moveret, fiebat ut soli luna totidem conversionibus in aere illo quot diebus in ipso caelo succederet, ex quo et in [caelo] sphaera solis fieret eadem illa defectio, et incideret luna tum in eam metam quae esset umbra terrae, cum sol e regione."

When Gallus moved the globe, it happened that the Moon followed the Sun by as many turns on that bronze [contrivance] as in the Earth itself, from which also in the sky the Sun's globe became [to have] that same eclipse, and the Moon came then to that position which was [its] shadow [on] the Earth, when the Sun was in line.

Pappus of Alexandria stated that Archimedes had written a now lost manuscript on the construction of these devices entitled On Sphere-Making.

The surviving texts from the Library of Alexandria describe many of his creations, some even containing simple blueprints. One such device is his odometer, the exact model later used by the Romans to place their mile markers (described by Vitruvius, Heron of Alexandria and in the time of Emperor Commodus)The blueprints in the text appeared functional, but attempts to build them as pictured had failed. When the gears pictured, which had square teeth, were replaced with gears of the type in the Antikythera mechanism, which were angled, the device was perfectly functional.

Whether this is an example of a device created by Archimedes and described by texts lost in the burning of the Library of Alexandria, or if it is a device based on his discoveries, or if it has anything to do with him at all, is debatable.

If Cicero's account is correct (and there is reason to doubt it), then this technology existed as early as the 3rd century BC. Archimedes' device is also mentioned by later Roman era writers such as Lactantius (Divinarum Institutionum Libri VII), Claudian (In sphaeram Archimedes), and Proclus (Commentary on the first book of Euclid's Elements of Geometry) in the 4th and 5th centuries.

Cicero also says that another such device was built 'recently' by his friend Posidonius, "... each one of the revolutions of which brings about the same movement in the Sun and Moon and five wandering stars [planets] as is brought about each day and night in the heavens..."

It is unlikely that either of these machines were the Antikythera mechanism found in the shipwreck, because both the devices mentioned by Cicero were located in Rome at least 50 years later than the estimated date of the shipwreck. So we know of three such devices. The modern scientists who have reconstructed the Antikythera mechanism also agree that it was too sophisticated to have been a one-off device.

It is probable that the Antikythera mechanism was not unique, as shown by Cicero's references to such mechanisms.

This adds support to the idea that there was an ancient Greek tradition of complex mechanical technology that was later transmitted to the Islamic world, where similarly complex mechanical devices were built by Muslim engineers and astronomers during the Middle Ages.

In the early 9th century, the Banū Mūsā's Kitab al-Hiyal (Book of Ingenious Devices), commissioned by the Caliph of Baghdad, describes over a hundred mechanical devices, some of which may date back to ancient Greek texts preserved in monasteries. Similarly complex astronomical instruments were constructed by al-Biruni and other Muslim astronomers from the 11th century.

Such knowledge could have yielded to or been integrated with European clockmaking and medieval cranes.

« Last Edit: August 15, 2008, 11:41:28 pm by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #35 on: January 09, 2009, 08:47:46 am »

                    Decoding the Heavens: Solving the Mystery of the World’s First Computer

                     by Jo Marchant - review

        Ed Lake uncovers the story of the Antikythera mechanism, a 2,000-year old piece of clockwork

By Ed Lake
Last Updated: 11:21AM GMT 08 Jan 2009

Astonishing archaeological discoveries, those that send even the most staid archivist into reveries about ancient astronauts and time travellers, are disappointingly rare. There is an iron pillar in Delhi erected around 900 BC that has hardly rusted; the so-called “Baghdad battery” – a Sassanid pot that may or may not have been an electrochemical cell, though it hardly matters since it has nowhere to attach wires. But these are slim pickings.

The only item with a decent claim to have upset the established record is the Antikythera mechanism, a 2,000-year-old lump of corroded bronze that is the most exquisite piece of pre-18th-century clockwork that we possess. In 1901, a team of Greek sponge divers was investigating an ancient shipwreck off the coast of Antikythera.

Along with a haul of bronze statuary and some potsherds that proved useful for dating the vessel, it happened on a few chunks of encrusted greenish limestone from which, puzzlingly, gears were protruding. This should, so to speak, have set off alarm bells: up until then the entire tradition of European clockwork was thought to stem from 10th-century Arabia; the flowering of this art in the 15th century was what inspired the mechanistic ideas of Descartes and Laplace, which, in turn, laid the foundations for the technological triumphs of the following centuries. In other words, those few cogs should have caused a major upset in the history of thought.

Instead, the chunks were left for several years in a crate outside the Athens National Archaeological Museum. On contact with the air, hydrochloric acid started forming around the surviving fragments, eating away at their workings. By the time anyone got round to inspecting the device, it was very difficult to see what it could have been. The story of how it has been pieced back together over the past 50 years is the main theme of Jo Marchant’s diverting book.

Choosing to focus on this aspect of the subject might have been a mistake, however, as the tale pans out very much as you might guess. It all came down to improvements in 3D imaging technology – Cat scans, essentially – combined with the clock-building intuition of scholars. There aren’t many twists to lighten the exposition, though Marchant does set up a satisfyingly bitter race for the prize. Michael Wright, a British savant, wore out his health, marriage and job trying to reconstruct the device through his mechanical intelligence. When he found himself beaten by a documentary filmmaker who used flash-tomography equipment, he turned up at his rival’s party to deliver what a witness called: “half an hour of continuously controlled rage”. Having heard what he went through, I don’t blame him.

Yet despite such heightened passions, the participants in Marchant’s drama remain for the most part indistinct. We get very little quotation to suggest tone of voice, and character is largely sketched through cliché: “Field was a careful scholar, fiercely proud of her PhD”; “Agamemnon is… a large but gentle bear of a man” and so on. One gets an impression of anxious mollification, as if Marchant thought her interview subjects would revolt unless portrayed as heroes.

None of this detracts greatly from the main interest: the device. Marchant calls it a computer, which seems a stretch since it wasn’t in any sense programmable, but it’s a dizzyingly brilliant thing regardless. A mechanical calendar, it gave the positions of the stars, quite possibly predicted eclipses, and might, rather unconventionally for the time, have placed the sun instead of the Earth at the centre of the cosmos.

Michael Wright believes the device originally possessed 72 gears. Those that survive are so tiny and perfectly cut, not to mention arranged in so elegant a mechanism, as to suggest a mature tradition in clockwork that has not survived. Bronze was a scarce commodity, often recycled. Medieval scribes tended to copy only those treatises of the ancients which they could understand. In this way, pinnacles of human ingenuity recede. Whatever else it might once have told its creators, the Antikythera mechanism bears a chilling message for our technological age.
« Last Edit: July 13, 2009, 08:19:56 pm by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #36 on: August 10, 2009, 10:01:07 am »

                                  World's first computer may be even older than thought

Jo Marchant,
July 29, 2009

From Swiss Army knives to iPhones, it seems we just love fancy gadgets with as many different functions as possible. And judging from the ancient Greek Antikythera mechanism, the desire to
impress with the latest multipurpose must-have item goes back at least 2000 years.

This mysterious box of tricks was a portable clockwork computer, dating from the first or second century BC. Operated by turning a handle on the side, it modelled the movements of the Sun, Moon
and planets through the sky, sported a local calendar, star calendar and Moon-phase display, and
could even predict eclipses and track the timing of the Olympic games.

I gave a talk on the device at London's Royal Institution last night. One new clue I mentioned to the origin of the mechanism comes from the Olympiad dial - there are six sets of games named on the dial, five of which have been deciphered so far. Four of them, including the Olympics, were major games known across the Greek world. But the fifth, Naa, was much smaller, and would only have been of local interest.

The Naa games were held in Dodona in northwestern Greece, so Alexander Jones of the Institute
for the Study of the Ancient World in New York has suggested that the mechanism must have been made by or for someone from that area.

Intriguingly, this could mean the device is even older than thought. The inscriptions have been dated
to around 100 BC, but according to Jones the device may have been made at latest in the early second century BC, because after that the Romans devastated or took over the Greek colonies in the region,
so it's unlikely that people would still have been using the Greek calendar there.

But the highlight for most of the audience - judging from the spontaneous round of applause it received -was this breathtaking new animation of the gearing inside the mechanism. It has been made by Mogi Vicentini, an Italian astronomer and computer scientist, and it brings the device to life brilliantly.

Judge for yourself, but I think it shows that the mechanism would hold its own against the best of today's luxury gadgets.

Jo Marchant is author of Decoding the Heavens, a book about the Antikythera mechanism. It has
been shortlisted for the 2009 Royal Society Prize for Science Books, and is out now in paperback.

Categories: Science In Society | Technology

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« Reply #37 on: December 02, 2014, 01:29:38 am »

James Evans and Christián Carman Find Clues to an Ancient Greek Riddle
November 25, 2014
 Discovery about the Antikythera Mechanism
reveals surprising advances in early Greek science

An ancient Greek astronomical puzzle now has another piece in place.

The New York Times reported the new evidence today in a story about research by James Evans, professor of physics at University of Puget Sound, and Christián Carman, history of science professor at University of Quilmes, Argentina.

The two researchers published a paper advancing our understanding of the Antikythera Mechanism, an ancient Greek mechanism that modeled the known universe of 2,000 years ago. The heavily encrusted, clocklike mechanism—dubbed the “world’s first computer”—was retrieved from an ancient shipwreck on the bottom of the sea off Greece in 1901.  The new work is published in the Archive for History of Exact Science.

After several years of studying the mechanism and Babylonian records of eclipses, the collaborators have pinpointed the date when the mechanism was timed to begin—205 B.C.  This suggests the mechanism is 50–100 years older than most researchers in the field have thought.

The new work fills a gap in ancient scientific history by indicating that the Greeks were able to predict eclipses and engineer a highly complex machine—sometimes called the world’s first computer—at an earlier stage than believed. It also supports the idea that the eclipse prediction scheme was not based on Greek trigonometry (which was nonexistent in 205 B.C.)—but on Babylonian arithmetical methods, borrowed by the Greeks.

Far more conjecturally, this timing also makes an old story told by Cicero more plausible—that a similar mechanism was created by Archimedes and carried back to Rome by the Roman general Marcellus, after the sack of Syracuse and the death of Archimedes in 212 B.C. If the Antikythera mechanism did indeed use an eclipse predictor that worked best for a cycle starting in 205 BC, the likely origin of this machine is tantalizingly close to the lifetime of Archimedes.

Evans and Carman arrived at the 205 B.C. date using a method of elimination that they devised. Beginning with the hundreds of ways that the Antikythera’s eclipse patterns could fit Babylonian records (as reconstructed by John Steele, Brown University) the team used their system to eliminate dates successively, until they had a single possibility.

 The calculations take into account lunar and solar anomalies (which result in faster or slower velocity), missing solar eclipses, lunar and solar eclipse­s cycles, and other astronomical phenomena. The work was particularly difficult because only about a third of the Antikythera’s eclipse predictor is preserved.

Evans and Carman first presented their ongoing research at a Netherlands conference in June 2013, stimulating debate among their peers.  The new online paper will appear in the journal’s January 2015 hard copy edition.

To read The New York Times story visit:

Photos on page: Top right: the ancient Antikythera relic rescued from a shipwreck (photo by Giovanni Dall Orto). Above left: James Evans, by Ross Mulhausen.

Tweet this: Scientific whodunit #Antikythera. James Evans @univpugetsound adds a clue. Story by @markoff @nytimes

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« Reply #38 on: December 02, 2014, 01:30:27 am »

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