The Antikythera Mechanism

“Nothing like this instrument is preserved elsewhere. Nothing comparable to it is known from any ancient scientific text or literally allusion.”[3, p.60]
– Derek J. de Solla Price (1959)

The Antikythera Mechanism was an analog computer fashioned out of bronze that linked “the technical calendars used by astronomers to the everyday calendars that regulated ancient Greek society”.[4]

By 1959, it had been dated to the 1st century BCE based on the contents of the wreck in which it was found. The pottery, amphorae, and other minor objects were dated to the 1st century. Inscriptions were found on the mechanism itself that also dated to the 1st century BCE.[3, p.61]

In 2008, Ball reported a dating of c.150-100 BCE for the Antikythera Mechanism.[4]

Here’s a good video on the generally accepted view of the Antikythera mechanism:

History of the mechanism

c.70-50 BCE: The mechanism was lost in the Mediterranean Sea when the ship it is on sinks off the coast of the Greek island Antikythera.[1, p.129] The date of +/- 15 years from 65 BCE was given by de Solla Price.[3, p.61]

1900: Dodecanese sponge divers located the shipwreck.[3, p.61]

1901: Greek archeologists retrieved a number of items from the shipwreck including marble and bronze statues.[3, p.61]

1902: The archeologist Valerios Stais became the first person to comment on record about the wheel seen inside the artifact. The general scholarly opinion around 1902 was that advanced timekeeping devices were only invented in the late middle ages (1300-1500 CE). Due to this, Stais’ contemporaries rejected his postulation that the newly discovered item was a clock.[2, p.2]

1950s: Derek John de Solla Price took an interest in the mechanism.[2, p.2]

1970s: X-ray and gamma-ray images of the mechanism were taken by Charalampos Karakalos and de Solla Price and revealed that the artifact contained numerous handmade gears.[2, p.2]

2005: The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project (AMRP) used microfocus X-ray computed to analyze the 82 fragments of the Antikythera Mechanism.[1, p.129]

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[1] – Paul A. Iversen. “The Calendar on the Antikythera Mechanism and the Corinthian Family of Calendars.” Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, vol. 86, no. 1, 2017, pp. 129–203. JSTOR, Accessed 2 Jan. 2021.

[2] – Mondschein, Ken, and Neal Stephenson. On Time: a History of Western Timekeeping. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2020.

[3] – De Solla Price, Derek J. “An Ancient Greek Computer.” Scientific American, vol. 200, no. 6, 1959, pp. 60–67. JSTOR, Accessed 3 Jan. 2021.

[4] – Phillip Ball, “Complex Clock Combines Calendars,” Nature 454, no. 7204 (July 30, 2008). Accessed 3 Jan. 2021.

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