Skip to comments.Scientists Unravel Mystery of Ancient Greek Machine
Posted on 11/29/2006 3:44:39 PM PST by Redcitizen
Scientists have finally demystified the incredible workings of a 2,000-year-old astronomical calculator built by ancient Greeks.
A new analysis of the Antikythera Mechanism [image], a clock-like machine consisting of more than 30 precise, hand-cut bronze gears, show it to be more advanced than previously thoughtso much so that nothing comparable was built for another thousand years.
"This device is just extraordinary, the only thing of its kind," said study leader Mike Edmunds of Cardiff University in the UK. "The design is beautiful, the astronomy is exactly right In terms of historical and scarcity value, I have to regard this mechanism as being more valuable than the Mona Lisa."
The researchers used three-dimensional X-ray scanners to reconstruct the workings of the device's gears and high-resolution surface imaging to enhance faded inscriptions on its surface.
The new analysis reveals that the device's front dials had pointers for the sun and Mooncalled the "golden little sphere" and "little sphere," respectivelyand markings which coincided with the zodiac and solar calendars. The back dials, meanwhile, appear to have been used for predicting solar and lunar eclipses.
The researchers also show that the device could mechanically replicate the irregular motions of the Moon, caused by its elliptical orbit around the Earth, using a clever design involving two superimposed gear-wheels, one slightly off-center, that are connected by a pin-and-slot device.
The team was also able to pin down the device's construction date more precisely. Radiocarbon dating suggested it was built around 65 BC, but newly revealed lettering on the machine indicate a slightly older construction date of 150 to 100 BC. The team's reconstruction also involves 37 gear wheels, seven of which are hypothetical.
"In the face of fragmentary material evidence, such guesswork is inevitable. But the new model is highly seductive, and convincing in all of its detail," wrote Francois Charette, a researcher at the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Germany who was not involved in the study, in a related article in the journal Nature.
Discovered in 1900
Pieces of the ancient calculating machine were discovered by sponge divers exploring the remains of an ancient shipwreck off the tiny island of Antikythera in 1900. For decades, scientists have been trying to figure out how the device's 80 fragmented pieces fit together and unlock its workings.
Previous reconstructions suggested the Antikythera Mechanism was about the size of a shoebox, with dials on the outside and a complex assembly of bronze gear wheels within. By winding a knob on its side, the positions of the sun, Moon, Mercury and Venus could be determined for any chosen date. Newly revealed inscriptions also appear to confirm previous speculations that the device could also calculate the positions of Mars, Jupiter and Saturnthe other planets known at the time.
The international team, led by Edmunds and Tony Freeth, also of Cardiff University, included astronomers, mathematicians, computer experts, script analysts and conservation experts from the UK, Greece and the United States.
The researchers plan to create a computer model of how the Antikythera Mechanism worked and eventually a working replica.
The team's findings will be presented in a two-day international conference in Athens and published in the Nov. 30 issue of the journal Nature.
ike Edmunds of Cardiff University in the UK. "The design is beautiful, the astronomy is exactly right
In terms of historical and scarcity value, I have to regard this mechanism as being more valuable than the Mona Lisa."
Spoken like a scientist. I agree with him but then I think a Gulfstream IV is far more beautiful than anything modern art ever produced.
Something to bring up the next time somebody on the Apocalypto boards gushes on about how advanced the Mayans were...
The history of the history of this machine is extensive on FR.
The History Channel did an interesting show about this device. I think it was an episode of "Ancient Mysteries." Its all very interesting.
Heck, my dog produces anything more beautiful than anything modern art ever produced, and he does it on a regular basis.
Has your dog applied for a NEA grant?
WEll, now the question.
Does the sun go around the earth or the earth go around the sun on this calculator.
I bet the guy in Egypt, Rome or Carthage who had bought it had a real bad day when he found out the ship went down.
Duct tape dispenser?
It appears that they understood retrograde motion well enough to accurately show it in their machine..
I also found it interesting that it is surmised this calculator may have been "mass produced".. ( near the end of the linked article.. )
The original Flux Capacitor...
Thanks, kitchen. Believe it or not, there were two others today (that I know of).
Maybe humans are the "aliens"? Makes more sense than some of the crazy theories out there.
The Greeks also built an amazing array of devices, including the first steam-engine - as an amusing toy. A few different choices by ancient scientists and rulers and history might have been quite different. We lost about 1500 years to the 'dark ages'. Guess we weren't ready to make the technological leap when so much slave labor was available and life was cheap...
What was the original statement about it? "We're not sure what it is or what it does ,but we expect the Chinese to mass produce em and ship em over to the USA for the Christmas retail season" !!!
"This device is just extraordinary, the only thing of its kind,"
We don't really know if this is the only thing of its kind. It is the only thing like this we have found. I wouldn't be surprised if we looked a little closer at some of the museum collections and recovered shipwreck debris we might just find evidence that this kind of thing was more common than we realize. Who would've thought there would've been trade routes between the "New" world and the "Old" during the time of the Egyptian dynasties but there is increasing evidence of this now that some chemical tests run on Egyptian mummies had found traces of plant products native to the Americas, such as tobacco and coca. Some claim contamination but the tests were done in such a fashion that this is unlikely.
I agree these things were probably more common in the past but it's a one of a kind artifact now. We've consistently underestimated the abilities of our ancestors because modern technology seems so extraordinary we can't imagine ancients found different answers to current problems long ago.
I'm waiting for the discovery that the ancient Egyptians/Athenians/Romans had already solved the energy crisis!
It even makes provisions for daylight savings time!
They didn't find "casino" engraved anywhere?
Thanks Dave. I'm no longer sure, but I think there were six topics about this update to the Antikythera device story. Fascinating piece of ancient engineering.
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on or off the
"Gods, Graves, Glyphs" PING list or GGG weekly digest
-- Archaeology/Anthropology/Ancient Cultures/Artifacts/Antiquities, etc.
Gods, Graves, Glyphs (alpha order)
Actually this was the first clock that was right twice a day. No moving parts involved.
Did you mean Casio?
The GGG list sounds like a good ping to me. Please add me to your list. Thanks!
Looks like a candidate for some WD-40.
Wwhat's scary about that question; if he did, he'd probably get it!
Will Durant's opinion was that the Roman leaders were afraid that technological progress would destroy jobs. Some things never change.
I think it said 'Rolodex'.
· join list or digest · view topics · view or post blog · bookmark · post a topic · subscribe ·
Bronze Age Forum
Excerpt, or Link only?
· Science topic · science keyword · Books/Literature topic · pages keyword ·