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The Antikythera Mechanism (Computer - 56BC)
Economist ^ | 9-19-2002

Posted on 04/30/2006 7:21:04 PM PDT by blam

The Antikythera mechanism

The clockwork computer
Sep 19th 2002
From The Economist print edition

An ancient piece of clockwork shows the deep roots of modern technology

WHEN a Greek sponge diver called Elias Stadiatos discovered the wreck of a cargo ship off the tiny island of Antikythera in 1900, it was the statues lying on the seabed that made the greatest impression on him. He returned to the surface, removed his helmet, and gabbled that he had found a heap of dead, naked women. The ship's cargo of luxury goods also included jewellery, pottery, fine furniture, wine and bronzes dating back to the first century BC. But the most important finds proved to be a few green, corroded lumps—the last remnants of an elaborate mechanical device.

The Antikythera mechanism, as it is now known, was originally housed in a wooden box about the size of a shoebox, with dials on the outside and a complex assembly of bronze gear wheels within. X-ray photographs of the fragments, in which around 30 separate gears can be distinguished, led the late Derek Price, a science historian at Yale University, to conclude that the device was an astronomical computer capable of predicting the positions of the sun and moon in the zodiac on any given date. A new analysis, though, suggests that the device was cleverer than Price thought, and reinforces the evidence for his theory of an ancient Greek tradition of complex mechanical technology.

Michael Wright, the curator of mechanical engineering at the Science Museum in London, has based his new analysis on detailed X-rays of the mechanism using a technique called linear tomography. This involves moving an X-ray source, the film and the object being investigated relative to one another, so that only features in a particular plane come into focus. Analysis of the resulting images, carried out in conjunction with Allan Bromley, a computer scientist at Sydney University, found the exact position of each gear, and suggested that Price was wrong in several respects.

In some cases, says Mr Wright, Price seems to have “massaged” the number of teeth on particular gears (most of which are, admittedly, incomplete) in order to arrive at significant astronomical ratios. Price's account also, he says, displays internal contradictions, selective use of evidence and unwarranted speculation. In particular, it postulates an elaborate reversal mechanism to get some gears to turn in the right direction.

Since so little of the mechanism survives, some guesswork is unavoidable. But Mr Wright noticed a fixed boss at the centre of the mechanism's main wheel. To his instrument-maker's eye, this was suggestive of a fixed central gear around which other moving gears could rotate. This does away with the need for Price's reversal mechanism and leads to the idea that the device was specifically designed to model a particular form of “epicyclic” motion.

The Greeks believed in an earth-centric universe and accounted for celestial bodies' motions using elaborate models based on epicycles, in which each body describes a circle (the epicycle) around a point that itself moves in a circle around the earth. Mr Wright found evidence that the Antikythera mechanism would have been able to reproduce the motions of the sun and moon accurately, using an epicyclic model devised by Hipparchus, and of the planets Mercury and Venus, using an epicyclic model derived by Apollonius of Perga. (These models, which predate the mechanism, were subsequently incorporated into the work of Claudius Ptolemy in the second century AD.)

A device that just modelled the motions of the sun, moon, Mercury and Venus does not make much sense. But if an upper layer of mechanism had been built, and lost, these extra gears could have modelled the motions of the three other planets known at the time—Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. In other words, the device may have been able to predict the positions of the known celestial bodies for any given date with a respectable degree of accuracy, using bronze pointers on a circular dial with the constellations of the zodiac running round its edge.

Mr Wright devised a putative model in which the mechanisms for each celestial body stack up like layers in a sandwich, and started building it in his workshop. The completed reconstruction, details of which appeared in an article in the Horological Journal in May, went on display this week at Technopolis, a museum in Athens. By winding a knob on the side, celestial bodies can be made to advance and retreat so that their positions on any chosen date can be determined. Mr Wright says his device could have been built using ancient tools because the ancient Greeks had saws whose teeth were cut using v-shaped files—a task that is similar to the cutting of teeth on a gear wheel. He has even made several examples by hand.

How closely this reconstruction matches up to the original will never be known. The purpose of two dials on the back of the device is still unclear, although one may indicate the year. Nor is the device's purpose obvious: it may have been an astrological computer, used to speed up the casting of horoscopes, though it might just as easily have been a luxury plaything. But Mr Wright is convinced that his epicyclic interpretation is correct, and that the original device modelled the entire known solar system.

The Greeks had a word for it

That tallies with ancient sources that refer to such devices. Cicero, writing in the first century BC, mentions an instrument “recently constructed by our friend Poseidonius, which at each revolution reproduces the same motions of the sun, the moon and the five planets.” Archimedes is also said to have made a small planetarium, and two such devices were said to have been rescued from Syracuse when it fell in 212BC. This reconstruction suggests such references can now be taken literally.

It also provides strong support for Price's theory. He believed that the mechanism was strongly suggestive of an ancient Greek tradition of complex mechanical technology which, transmitted via the Arab world, formed the basis of European clockmaking techniques. This fits with another, smaller device that was acquired in 1983 by the Science Museum, which models the motions of the sun and moon. Dating from the sixth century AD, it provides a previously missing link between the Antikythera mechanism and later Islamic calendar computers, such as the 13th century example at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford. That device, in turn, uses techniques described in a manuscript written by al-Biruni, an Arab astronomer, around 1000AD.

The origins of much modern technology, from railway engines to robots, can be traced back to the elaborate mechanical toys, or automata, that flourished in the 18th century. Those toys, in turn, grew out of the craft of clockmaking. And that craft, like so many other aspects of the modern world, seems to have roots that can be traced right back to ancient Greece.


TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: 56; antikythera; antikytheramechanism; bc; computer; godsgravesglyphs; mechanism; the
I'll look around for some more pictures.
1 posted on 04/30/2006 7:21:08 PM PDT by blam
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To: blam

The existence of "modern" metal gears at that time seems strange.


2 posted on 04/30/2006 7:24:29 PM PDT by Williams
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To: SunkenCiv
GGG Ping.

Reconstruction

3 posted on 04/30/2006 7:26:24 PM PDT by blam
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To: blam

The History Channel did a good job on this. "Gears from the Greeks" by De Solla Price is a fascinating book, even if he didn't get it quite right.


4 posted on 04/30/2006 7:27:18 PM PDT by ClearCase_guy (Never question Bruce Dickinson!)
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To: Williams
I know, call me a flip-flopper but where I was once Antikythera, I am now Prokythera. A person can grow, can't he?
5 posted on 04/30/2006 7:30:05 PM PDT by Socratic ("I'll have the roast duck with the mango salsa.")
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To: ClearCase_guy

Where's the keyboard and monitor? How do you plug it in?

They find some ancient royal Greek geek's music box (Ipod) and these freaks call it a computer?


6 posted on 04/30/2006 7:32:25 PM PDT by 308MBR (The GOP should remember the fate of the Whigs as they run away from their base.)
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To: Williams
A link to many pictures here.
7 posted on 04/30/2006 7:34:28 PM PDT by blam
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To: 308MBR

You don't have to plug it in. Was steam driven.

You fire it up.


8 posted on 04/30/2006 7:37:13 PM PDT by TASMANIANRED (The Internet is the samizdat of liberty..)
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To: TASMANIANRED

In all seriousness, I saw the show and still think it was either a music box or a device for animating some sort of statue or display, whether the mainspring rotted away or it was steam powered is no matter.

That being said, on anything short of a modern CNC machine the manufacturing of gears is still quite touchy. At least with the CNC, you can make scrap faster!

Go to the AGMA. That's the American Gear Manufacturing Association.


9 posted on 04/30/2006 7:52:43 PM PDT by 308MBR (The GOP should remember the fate of the Whigs as they run away from their base.)
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To: blam

It looks like a watt-hour meter. Did the guy find any TVs and radios?



10 posted on 04/30/2006 7:56:21 PM PDT by Right Wing Assault ("..this administration is planning a 'Right Wing Assault' on values and ideals.." - John Kerry)
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To: blam; Holly_P

Thanks Blam. Two similar topics:

Did The Ancient Greeks Make A Computer?
An Article | 1977 | Lionel Casson
Posted on 11/01/2003 12:21:03 PM EST by Holly_P
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1012790/posts

The Antikythera Mechanism: Physical and Intellectual Salvage from the 1st Century B.C.
USNA Eleventh Naval History Symposium | 1995 | Rob S. Rice
Posted on 08/14/2004 6:01:21 PM EDT by SunkenCiv
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/1191651/posts


11 posted on 04/30/2006 8:08:13 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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To: blam; FairOpinion; StayAt HomeMother; Ernest_at_the_Beach; 24Karet; 3AngelaD; ...
Thanks Blam. A ping, because it has been a while, and perhaps 200 people have joined since then.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list. Thanks.
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on or off the
"Gods, Graves, Glyphs" PING list or GGG weekly digest
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Gods, Graves, Glyphs (alpha order)

12 posted on 04/30/2006 8:09:12 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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Antikythera search:
Google

13 posted on 04/30/2006 8:11:16 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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To: blam

Amazing


14 posted on 04/30/2006 8:15:30 PM PDT by A. Pole (Solzhenitsyn:"Live Not By Lies" www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/ arch/solzhenitsyn/livenotbylies.html)
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To: Williams

It's not mentioned here but in 1900 there was speculation that it could have been tossed off of a much more modern ship, and just happened to "land" among the Antikythera wreckage.


15 posted on 04/30/2006 8:17:47 PM PDT by Slump Tester ( What if I'm pregnant Teddy? Errr-ahh Calm down Mary Jo, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it)
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To: blam
Since so little of the mechanism survives, some guesswork is unavoidable

This never seems to bother anthropologists.
16 posted on 04/30/2006 8:23:01 PM PDT by Nachoman (I love greasy old bolt guns.)
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To: blam

It's not entirely surprising. For one thing, Archimedes built some amazing mechanical weapons back then (as well as calculated mass and put "leverage" into scientific context).

For another, there is a **reason** that our language calls them planetary gears, historically.

17 posted on 04/30/2006 8:37:40 PM PDT by Southack (Media Bias means that Castro won't be punished for Cuban war crimes against Black Angolans in Africa)
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To: Southack
"For another, there is a **reason** that our language calls them planetary gears, historically."

Neat. Hadn't thought of that.

18 posted on 04/30/2006 8:53:32 PM PDT by blam
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To: blam
Ah, Derek DeSolla Price ... back, so my cousin says, when the Ivy League was on top of it's game and before the PC-digressions. Derek was, I am told, a true gentleman scholar (and here, not entirely wrong).
19 posted on 04/30/2006 9:23:35 PM PDT by dodger
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To: dodger

.


20 posted on 04/30/2006 10:06:09 PM PDT by knews_hound (When Blogs are Outlawed, only Outlaws will have Blogs.)
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To: blam

Interestingly enough, somewhere along the line I read that a machine very like this one -- and perhaps this very machine -- was described by a contemporary writer. Perhaps it's quoted in one of the similar topics.


21 posted on 04/30/2006 10:16:35 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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To: blam

Also... a while back I picked up Jacques Cousteau's old stuff on DVD. Boy, that guy sure did harp about how humans were going to ensure their own extinction because they raped the environment. What a whiner.

Anyway, one of the shows shows them diving on the same wreck (if memory serves -- I don't have the disks here or I'd check) and coming up with (for example) a missing piece of a small bronze statue recovered 100 years ago. S'cool. The Antikythera mechanism is shown on museum display.


22 posted on 04/30/2006 10:19:19 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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To: SunkenCiv

I well remember ol' Jack Cousteau's standard fundrasing pitch back in the seventies: that man would pollute the oceans to death and then we would all asphyxiate.

Nevertheless, things have come down quite a ways since the Kon-Tiki days when the flying fish and bonitos would practically throw themselves at Thor Hyerdahl and co. ("to starve to death was impossible").


23 posted on 04/30/2006 11:21:54 PM PDT by sinanju
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To: 308MBR
Actually, I believe it was more of a celestrial computer.
24 posted on 05/01/2006 4:21:47 AM PDT by AFreeBird (your mileage may vary)
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To: All; SunkenCiv; blam
That tallies with ancient sources that refer to such devices. Cicero, writing in the first century BC, mentions an instrument “recently constructed by our friend Poseidonius, which at each revolution reproduces the same motions of the sun, the moon and the five planets.” Archimedes is also said to have made a small planetarium, and two such devices were said to have been rescued from Syracuse when it fell in 212BC. This reconstruction suggests such references can now be taken literally.

Eh? So they used to be taken symbolically as opposed to literally?
25 posted on 05/01/2006 6:26:16 AM PDT by S0122017
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To: S0122017
Eh? So they used to be taken symbolically as opposed to literally?

That's how historiand and archaeologists deal with writing that contradicts their favorite theory. They claim the writing was symbolic rather than literal or simply dismiss it. Much easier that way.

26 posted on 05/01/2006 6:54:20 AM PDT by Question_Assumptions
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To: S0122017

:'D


27 posted on 05/01/2006 8:08:23 AM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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To: sionnsar

A true geezer geek device.


28 posted on 05/01/2006 8:05:29 PM PDT by Professional Engineer (Houdia for sale. Cheap!)
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To: Professional Engineer; phantomworker; sd-joe; Jack Black; TXBSAFH; SouthernBoyupNorth; Ichneumon; ..
Thanks to Professional Engineer for the ping!


Geezer Geek ping.

This is a very low-volume ping list (typically days to weeks between pings).
FReepmail sionnsar if you want on or off this list.

29 posted on 05/02/2006 10:07:37 AM PDT by sionnsar (†trad-anglican.faithweb.com† | Iran Azadi 2006 | SONY: 5yst3m 0wn3d - it's N0t Y0urs)
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To: sionnsar
So was this ancient device considered a "jig", a "fixture" a "scale" or "clock"? :-)


30 posted on 05/02/2006 10:28:17 AM PDT by JoeSixPack1
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To: SunkenCiv; sionnsar

So why was it on a ship?

The most useful device on a ship of that time would have offered a way to know either the exact time or the exact longitude.

Latitude was easily calculable from almost any sighting, but the altitude of Mars above the horizon would have given the exact longitude as well. From limited sighting information, these navigators would have been able to make extremely accurate voyages.


31 posted on 05/02/2006 2:20:17 PM PDT by NicknamedBob (The only Latin I know comes from Taglinus.)
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To: Southack
For another, there is a **reason** that our language calls them planetary gears, historically.

Except that this type of gear set is not what our language calls planetary gears.

Planetary gears are named that because the gears themselves are arranged to orbit around a central point, not just to calculate the orbits of planets.


32 posted on 05/02/2006 2:31:17 PM PDT by TChris ("Wake up, America. This is serious." - Ben Stein)
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To: sionnsar

Thanks for the ping. We are just at the tip of the iceberg on this old earth's history.

Saw a program on the History Channel today about the "Real Indiana Jones's". There is so much to be learned about past inhabitants.


33 posted on 05/02/2006 5:24:35 PM PDT by wizr (wiz - Sound on prairie, made by buffalo.)
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Revealed: world's oldest computer
by Helena Smith
The Observer
Sunday August 20, 2006
It looks like a heap of rubbish, feels like flaky pastry and has been linked to aliens. For decades, scientists have puzzled over the complex collection of cogs, wheels and dials seen as the most sophisticated object from antiquity, writes Helena Smith. But 102 years after the discovery of the calcium-encrusted bronze mechanism on the ocean floor, hidden inscriptions show that it is the world's oldest computer, used to map the motions of the sun, moon and planets... Known as the Antikythera mechanism and made before the birth of Christ, the instrument was found by sponge divers amid the wreckage of a cargo ship that sunk off the tiny island of Antikythera in 80BC. To date, no other appears to have survived... For years scholars had surmised that the object was an astronomical showpiece, navigational instrument or rich man's toy. The Roman Cicero described the device as being for 'after-dinner entertainment'. But many experts say it could change how the history of science is written. 'In many ways, it was the first analogue computer,' said Professor Theodosios Tassios of the National Technical University of Athens. 'It will change the way we look at the ancients' technological achievements.'

34 posted on 08/20/2006 10:16:27 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (updated my FR profile on Thursday, August 10, 2006. https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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35 posted on 10/05/2010 7:09:39 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (The 2nd Amendment follows right behind the 1st because some people are hard of hearing.)
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