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Scientist tackles mystery of ancient astronomical device

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Kai Fonder
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« on: January 10, 2015, 12:08:09 am »

 Science historian Alexander Jones, who was not involved with the analysis, called it "a really remarkable piece of work."

Evans and Carman clearly establish the oldest possible age for the device, said Jones, of New York University's Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. But he's still not convinced it was manufactured that long ago. It's possible that 205 B.C. was a historic date, chosen by the maker as the starting point for his dial, Jones pointed out.

The 205 B.C. date is tantalizing because it would bring the device closer to the lifetime of Archimedes. The genius who revolutionized geometry and invented compound pulleys was killed in 212 B.C. during the Roman conquest of the Greek city state of Syracuse, on the island of Sicily.

A story later told by the Roman historian Cicero claimed that the general who sacked Syracuse brought back to Rome a mechanical brass sphere created by Archimedes that modeled the movements of heavenly bodies.

But the famous inventor died seven years before 205 B.C., and there's no way to link him to the Antikythera Mechanism.

"People should be leery of trying to associate it with any one particular person," Evans said. "But you would have to think that whoever built this must at least have made use of what Archimedes had done, or came out of a tradition that started with Archimedes."

If the date holds up, it would also mean that the device was built before the invention of trigonometry, a branch of mathematics long linked to the golden era of Greek astronomy.

"I think that would make it much more interesting, because it would come from a more formative period of Greek astronomy," Evans said.

Future revelations about the device may hinge on the discovery of additional fragments. A new series of underwater excavations started last year and will resume in the spring.

This time, divers will be able to spend hours instead of minutes on the bottom, using a pressurized robotic suit developed in Vancouver, British Columbia, and originally used to inspect New York City's water system.
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