The Antikythera Mechanism

The Antikythera Mechanism

How old is the world’s oldest computer? Fifty years? One hundred years?

With apologies to Maxwell Smart, would you believe 2,000 years?

In 1901, sponge divers off the island of Antikythera found an ancient object in the wreckage of a Roman cargo ship. The Antikythera Mechanism has puzzled scientists ever since.

As far as researchers have figured out, the bronze mechanism was built in Greece around 87 B.C. and lost in 76 B.C. But what was it doing on a Roman ship? Possibly it was a part of the spoils of a war with Roman emperor Julius Caesar.

But what did it do?

Gears of the mechanism

Gears of the mechanism

X-rays indicate the Antikythera Mechanism has at least thirty different gears with strange numbers of teeth–prime numbers divisible only by 1 or itself. Numbers like 53 and 257. Huh?

Besides that, there are more than 2,000 Greek characters inscribed all over it.

Let’s cut to the chase. The mysterious object appears to be a mechanical analog computer used to calculate the movements of the Sun, moon, and planets. It even includes idiosyncrasies like the elliptical orbit of the moon, and all of this with the assumption that everything evolved around the Earth. If someone put in a future date, it would calculate the position of astronomical objects.

So what happened to this wonderful technology? Lost at sea? Possibly the knowledge migrated east to Arab astronomers, but no one knows for sure.

So what’s next in our discoveries? Maybe modern toilets aren’t so modern after all.

The Antikythera Mechanism as originally designed

The Antikythera Mechanism as originally designed



2 thoughts on “Antiky-what?

  1. I love this — it’s such a neat thing. I’ve seen a replica on a television documentary, recreated in thin wood, that is a working model. Way past cool!

    • Thanks, Rhonda. Sorry I didn’t respond sooner, but I was at a writers conference in Estes Park and got back this morning. We saw the documentary at a Mad Scientist pot luck. You wonder where we’d be technology-wise if we hadn’t lost the gadget.

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