The Antikythera mechanism, a 2,000-year-old ancient Greek calculating machine, is changing our understanding of the history of technology and science. Discovered by sponge divers off the coast of the island of Antikythera in Greece in 1901, the mechanism was initially thought to be just a corroded piece of metal.
But when gear wheels were found inside, it quickly captured the imagination of archaeologists, mathematicians, and scientists. The device was a sophisticated machine that used bronze gear wheels to calculate the cycles of the cosmos, including the positions of the sun, moon, planets, and stars.
Over the years, modern technology has advanced our understanding of the mechanism. In the 1970s, a team X-rayed the device and revealed dozens of cogs hidden within.
With the advent of 3D X-ray technology, an 8-10 X-ray machine was installed in the museum in Athens, where the mechanism is housed, and X-ray data was taken of all 82 surviving fragments.
The data revealed not only the gear wheels in 3D, but also inscriptions that had been hidden within the folds of corroded metal.
These inscriptions have helped Dr. Tony Freeth and his team with their latest model, which focuses on the front of the device. The thousands of text characters in ancient Greek reveal how the mechanism worked and displayed the ancient Greek cosmos in a sort of ring system.
The Antikythera mechanism has brought the history of technology back to a much earlier time and is forcing experts to rethink the entire history of technology.
The Antikythera mechanism was not unique. There were likely other devices like it in the ancient world, and the hope is that more may be found in shipwrecks under the Mediterranean. The diving technology is advancing, making it possible to explore deep wrecks.
The mechanism tells us that the history of technological development is not a straight line, but rather a series of fits and starts that sometimes get lost and forgotten.
To understand the technological world we live in today, we need to understand its history, including the Antikythera mechanism and its role in shaping our understanding of the ancient Greek’s sophisticated technology.
The Antikythera mechanism is a fascinating and extraordinary machine that has challenged our understanding of the history of technology and science. With modern technology and a theoretical model based on ancient Greek techniques, Tony Freeth and his team are now building a physical model of the mechanism, which may reveal more secrets of the ancient world still.