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Author Topic: ANTIKYTHERA Mechanism  (Read 4454 times)
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« Reply #30 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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