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One of Archaeology’s Great Mysteries Nearly Solved as Scientists Piece Together 2,000-Year-Old Computer

Since the Antikythera Mechanism was mined from the Peloponnese Sea in 1901, it remains one of the longest unsolved archeology mysteries.

Computer model of mechanism gears / UCL

Similar to something portrayed in the Da Vinci Code or Dungeons and Dragons, the manually operated clockwork brass planetarium has puzzled all who have beheld it.

However, more than a century since its discovery, researchers may have finally cracked the code and believe they understand enough about how the different cogwheels work to build a functional replica with modern tools.

“Many unsuccessful attempts have been made to reconcile the evidence with a display of the ancient Greek cosmos of the Sun, the Moon and the five planets known in antiquity,” reads the study of their findings, published in Nature.

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Rehm, Price, Wright, Freeth, Jones, Carmen, Throndike, Evans: the names of the scientists whose models and attempts to reproduce what is described as the world’s first analog computer stack as wired wood, as the authors from University College London explain the history of understanding on the device.

The Antikythera Mechanism, Giovanni Dall’Orto / Wikimedia Commons

The Antikythera mechanism is one of the most technologically sophisticated discoveries of the ancient world: a desk-mounted computational celestial observatory made of brass, powered by more than 30 individually formed gears mounted on other gears, displaying the motions of the entire Greek cosmos. . , with all the planets up to Saturn, the phases of the moon and the time of eclipses.

The Antikythera Code

Computer model of mechanism gears / UCL

Fished in 82 parts in the ruins of a shipwrecked merchant ship off the coast of Antikythera, Greece, the brass pieces are badly corroded. X-rays and CT scans revealed the extent of the numerous inscriptions etched into the brass panels at the back and front – essentially an operator’s manual.

Encased in a wooden box about a foot high, the device came into action with the turn of a crank.

The model of the cosmos in the device is consistent with the epicyclic theories of a 3rd century BC Greek astronomer. Called Apolonio de Perga, and another called Parmenides. Taken with Babylonian astronomical calculations, the UCL team used these ancient sources to figure out where each team would have to fit to ensure that everything moved in a manner consistent with the models of the time.

His model suggests that the planetarium’s frontal screen would have represented the cosmos in motion on concentric bronze rings.


Unfortunately, in order for the scientists’ model to be accurate, they had to represent the motion of each celestial body with the Earth in the center, as ancient theory held, which made it much more difficult to reproduce than if the sun was positioned. in the center as is the case in reality.


In addition, although his calculations are correct and within his reproduction they managed to fit all the gears in an extremely narrow space, he relied on the skills of the ancient Greeks to create a very unique component: a hollow, modular central shaft, each one. module of which it would have to nest inside another, a work that has never been registered in the previous period.

“The concentric tubes in the core of the planetarium are where my faith in Greek technology falters, and where the model could also fail,” Adam Wojcik told the Guardian, a materials scientist at UCL and part of the research team. “Lathes would be the way today, but we can’t assume they had them for metal.”


Who made the planetarium, what was it used for: Whether it was a teaching device or something to astonish the warlords, and whether the team was able to reverse-engineer the technologies of their time, are still unknown.

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“Solving this complex puzzle in 3D reveals a genius creation: the combination of cycles from Babylonian astronomy, the mathematics of Plato’s Academy, and ancient Greek astronomical theories,” the authors write.

(CLOCK the video about the old computer below).

SHARE Antikythera Mechanismon’s amazing trailer on social media …

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