Feb 16, 2023

The Antikythera mechanism is an ancient Greek analog computer used to predict astronomical positions and eclipses for calendrical and astrological purposes. It is one of the most enigmatic and fascinating archaeological finds of the 20th century. The mechanism, which dates back to the second century BCE, was discovered in 1901 by a group of sponge divers who were exploring a shipwreck off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera.

History of the Antikythera Mechanism

The Antikythera Mechanism was discovered in 1901 by a group of Greek sponge divers who were diving off the coast of Antikythera, a small island between Crete and the Peloponnese. The divers were in search of sponges but stumbled upon a shipwreck. The ship was believed to be a Roman cargo vessel that had sunk in the first century BC.

The mechanism was discovered among the other artifacts recovered from the wreckage. However, the mechanism was initially overlooked as the divers and the archaeologists focused on the more visible and valuable artifacts. It wasn't until a year later that the mechanism was examined closely, and it became clear that it was an intricate and sophisticated device.

Purpose of the Antikythera Mechanism

The purpose of the Antikythera Mechanism has been a topic of much debate among scientists and historians. Initially, it was believed to be an astronomical device used to track the movements of the sun, moon, and stars. However, recent research has revealed that the mechanism was much more sophisticated than previously believed.

The mechanism is believed to have been used to predict astronomical events, including solar and lunar eclipses, the dates of the Olympic Games, and the phases of the moon. It was also able to predict the positions of the sun, moon, and planets in the zodiac, as well as the phases of Venus. The device is thought to have been used for astrological purposes, as well as for navigation and religious practices.

Construction of the Antikythera Mechanism

The Antikythera Mechanism is an incredibly complex device, comprising over 30 bronze gears and wheels, all housed in a wooden case. The mechanism's intricate design suggests that it was created by skilled craftsmen, likely in the Greek city of Corinth or the island of Rhodes.

The mechanism's purpose was long a matter of speculation. Initially, scholars thought it might be an astronomical instrument, but more recent research suggests that it was a sophisticated mechanical calculator that was used to predict solar and lunar eclipses, as well as the positions of the sun, moon, and planets. In addition, the mechanism also displayed the cycles of the Olympic Games, which were of great importance in ancient Greek society.

The largest gear measures around 14 centimeters in diameter, and the entire mechanism is housed in a wooden case that measures around 33 centimeters by 18 centimeters by 9 centimeters. The mechanism is thought to have originally been mounted on a wooden stand or base.

Age of the Antikythera Mechanism

The Antikythera Mechanism is estimated to be around 2,200 years old, making it one of the oldest surviving examples of advanced mechanical technology. The mechanism has been dated to between 150 and 100 BC, placing it firmly in the Hellenistic period of Greek history.

Where to see the Antikythera Mechanism

Despite its age, the Antikythera Mechanism has been remarkably well-preserved. The device was encrusted with marine deposits and required extensive restoration and analysis to uncover its true nature. Today, the mechanism is housed in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, where it is on display for the public.