A 2,000-Year-Old Computer
Recovered from a ship wreck off the tiny island of Antikythera around 1900, the Antikythera mechanism was first regarded as a few green, corroding lumps. Turns out they were fragments of the world's oldest known analog computer.
The Antikythera mechanism dates back to 2,000 years ago, and is believed to have been made in 100 B.C.
The mechanism was used as an astronomical device to help predict the movements of the sun, moon, and our close planetary neighbors. It was most likely made for mobile use, and the existence of an instruction manual indicates that it was meant to be used by an amateur traveler as well.
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The device is composed of more than 30 gears, although at one point it may have had as many as 72. It is made from a low-tin bronze allow (about 95 percent copper and five percent tin) and teeth for the gears are hand cut to perfect equilateral triangles.
"This device is just extraordinary, the only thing of its kind. The design is beautiful, the astronomy is exactly right. The way the mechanics are designed just makes your jaw drop. Whoever has done this has done it extremely carefully ... in terms of historic and scarcity value, I have to regard this mechanism as being more valuable than the Mona Lisa," says Professor Michael Edmunds from Cardiff University who has studied the mechanism.
The complexity and precision of the instrument has baffled scientists for over a century. Similar astronomical devices did not appear until the 14th century in Europe.
It was first discovered back in October, 1900 by a team of sponge divers. Led by Dimitrios Kondos, the divers decided to wait out a storm and dive off Antikythera's coastline instead. In the process they discovered the Antikythera wreck.
The wreck, which sunk in the first century B.C., was more than 60 meters down and held numerous artifacts, such as statues, along with a heap of dead bodies.
While examining what had been salvaged in 1902, archaeologist Valerios Stais identified a gear wheel embedded in a rock. That discovery was the Antikythera mechanism, one of the most valuable finds in history.
Its origins were originally thought to be the Greek island of Rhodes, which was known to be a center for astronomical and mechanical engineering. More recent studies published by The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project suggest that it came from Archimedes, the great mathematician and physicist, in Corinth.
Watch a video about the Antikythera mechanism here.