Antikythera Mechanism

New analysis of Antikythera Mechanism reveals clues to one of history’s greatest puzzles

(Read the article on one page)

A new study of the world famous Antikythera mechanism has revealed fascinating new information about the puzzling artifact, including that the maths used for its eclipse prediction appears to be based on Babylonian arithmetic rather than Greek trigonometry.  A detailed analysis of the eclipse predictor has also enabled scientists to determine that the device’s astronomical calculations started in 205 BC, enabling the first accurate dating of the mechanism. If this is correct, it makes it highly unlikely that its creator was the renowned ancient Greek inventor Archimedes.

The Antikythera mechanism was discovered in 1900 during the recovery of a shipwreck off of the Greek island, Antikythera, in waters 60 meters deep. The metallic device consists of  37 different types of gears and is so complex that many consider it to be the first human-made analogue computer. After decades of research, scientists were able to determine that it shows the positions of the sun, moon, and planets as they move through the zodiac, predicts solar and lunar eclipses, and even marked key events such as the Pan-Hellenic games. Scientists have claimed that the complex assemblage of bronze gears predates other similar types of technology by 1,000 years.

Representatives of the Greek government, the crew and the sponge divers on the deck of the Greek navy ship Mykali in winter 1900/1901, pulling up objects from the Antikythera shipwreck

Representatives of the Greek government, the crew and the sponge divers on the deck of the Greek navy ship Mykali in winter 1900/1901, pulling up objects from the Antikythera shipwreck ( Wikimedia).

Archaeologists and historians have long debated when the device was built and by whom.  “Given its sophistication, some experts believe it must have been influenced, at least, by one of a small pantheon of legendary Greek scientists – perhaps Archimedes, Hipparchus, or Posidonius,” writes the New York Times .

References to complex astronomical mechanisms in the works of ancient writers, has led to some of the above proposals being made. For example, Roman politician and philosopher, Cicero (106 – 43 BC), refers to an instrument that reproduced the motions of the sun and the five planets. The device Cicero described, which many believe was the Antikythera mechanism, was built by Archimedes.  However, the latest analysis challenges this assumption, revealing that the device may be even older than first thought.

Sketch showing the complex assemblage of gears in the Antikythera mechanism

Sketch showing the complex assemblage of gears in the Antikythera mechanism ( Wikimedia)

The new study, published in the journal Archive for History of Exact Science , involved a detailed look at the Saros dial (eclipse predictor) of the Antikythera mechanism. Their results revealed that the prediction calendar includes a solar eclipse that occurred on May 12, 205 BC. This suggests that the device is at least this old, and may in fact be the year of its creation. Researchers had previously dated the mechanism to around 100 to 150 BC based on  radiocarbon dating and an analysis of the Greek letters inscribed on the device. However, the new date pushes the origin back by 50 to 100 years, and suggests that Archimedes is unlikely to be its creator, as he was killed in 212 BC, seven years prior to the new date of 205 BC.

The study also supports the idea that the maths used for eclipse prediction was based on Babylonian arithmetical models borrowed by the Greeks. “We… find that a Babylonian-style arithmetical scheme employing an equation of center and daily velocities would match the inscribed times of day quite well,” write the study authors. “Indeed, an arithmetic scheme for the eclipse times matches the evidence somewhat better than does a [Greek] trigonometric model.”

Last month, an expedition returned to the Antikythera shipwreck —with the aid of a high-tech exosuit—and recovered tableware, ship components, and a giant bronze spear that would have belonged to a life-sized warrior statue. A new investigation is planned for early next year and it is hoped the exploration may reveal more about this unique piece of advanced ancient technology.

Featured image: The Antikythera Mechanism found in a shipwreck off the island of Antikythera in Greece. Credit: Tilemahos Efthimiadis / flickr

By April Holloway

Comments

I wrote a Greco-Roman type of historical novel in 2009 ago with mention of the antikytheria device that was in the news several years ago: The idea and awe of the device inspired me to write an entire novel. I even liked the word "antikythera"....reminds me of the island of Kythera seen in travel videos...You also may wish to see my article on how to write historical fiction on these types of topics: http://www.anne-hart-writes.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-antikytheria-device...

I'd be very interested to know how you pronounce Antikytheria! I've got several interpretations but I'm not sure which sounds best. 

Are you serious? You wrote a book and have a blog dedicated to the Antikythera Mechanism and yet you don't know that it's named such because it was found off the tiny greek island of Antikythera which is just off the coast of kythera island.  I suggest you stop embarrassing yourself by promoting your "book" and "blog" and leave these things to professionals. Thanks.

You do realize those were two different people there -- right, champ?

I have to read that! Since we have as well published a historical novel that applies the Antikythera Mechanism as an essential plot device. The German version was trade-published in 2006, the whole set of six volumes has been made available in English in 2014. Because I am an engineer by profession, I have been able to analyse the publications by the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project to describe the technological details and how, I think, that device was put to operation. And we have made up an explanation for why there is only one of them and what may have happened to the others: http://www.corpus-sacrum.de .

Nothing in this article precludes Archimedes from being the builder of this thing.

I agree with you, if Archimedes was thought to be the builder, then the earlier dates must have been 200-250bc, not 100-150bc (which would have been 100 years after his death in 205bc). So, the stated date of 205bc (no archeological date is that precise), is still within the original date range and authorship by Archimedes.

*his death in 212bc

Archimedes (like Pythagoras) is far more. likely a personification of plural mythic traditions tyan an actual historical person. This makes it difficult and likely spurious to attribute design/manufacture of the mechanism to "him."

""Archimedes (like Pythagoras) is far more. likely a personification of plural mythic traditions tyan an actual historical person. This makes it difficult and likely spurious to attribute design/manufacture of the mechanism to "him.""

Here is to you and your likes (are you actually "hacked to death"?)

"The Fox and the Grapes" is one of the traditional Aesop's fables and can be held to illustrate the concept of cognitive dissonance. In this view, the premise of the fox that covets inaccessible grapes is taken to stand for a person who attempts to hold incompatible ideas simultaneously. In that case, the disdain the fox expresses for the grapes at the conclusion to the fable serves at least to diminish the dissonance even if the behaviour in fact remains irrational.

The moral to the story is "It is easy to despise what you cannot get."

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, (FIrst easy reference that poped out, especially for you)

If it is a geared mechanism, then it should be possible to operate in reverse (unless it contains a ratcheting system) and thus mark events from before its assembly.

The idea that the inclusion of info related to an eclipse in 205BC suggests that the object is at least that old is yet another example of the incredible silliness that many archeologists display.

Yeah. That does seem a bit simplistic. I'm wondering about the fact that it is so complicated. Surely there must have been simpler versions and prototypes preceding this device that are now lost to us. Given the uses for the data it provided everyone would want one! Just because we've only found one doesn't mean that's all there ever was...

well guys, it's pretty obvious that there had to be earlier similar models.there must have been many golden ages in human history.

1. Regarding Ms. Hall's novel featuring the mechanism, if she did not make a connection between Antikythera and Kythera, then there could be a problem, although I have seen errors in novels by well-established authors that are just about as bad.

2. Regarding Archimedes being some sort of "plural mythic" figure like Pythagoras, I don't have a clue where that comes from. We have books and/or book list refeences to his books, we have historical accounts of his activities and his death, and lots of statuary or busts of him. I have never heard of his being a combination of mythical figures, although I would be willing to allow that some of his exploits or his final words may be just legend.

3. The 205 BC date for the first eclipse calculated by the mechanism excludes Archimedes because he would conceivably be interested in an eclipse that occurred probably no more than a year in his future or within his existing life time frame that he could use as a zero point or confirmation that it worked. He was pretty old at his death for that time. However, the mechanism could have been built based on an earlier model he made or could have been made by one of his students/assistants that survived the Roman conquest of Syracuse.

giopastore's picture

I have the pleasure of informing you that my book has been printed in English:
THE RECOVERED ARCHIMEDES PLANETARIUM, Science, technology, history, literature and archaeology, certainty and conjecture on the most ancient and extraordinary astronomical calculating device. With two other scientific studies: on the Antikythera Planetarium and the Pitcher of Ripacandida. With the appendix: PYTHAGORAS IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD. Influences of Pythagorean scientific philosophy in the modern and contemporary world.
Given the considerable international interest, the book has been translated into English.
Sincerely,
Prof. Ing. GIOVANNI PASTORE  - ITALY
Tel. +39 0835 980530
E-MAIL: [email protected]
INTERNET: http://www.giovannipastore.it/index_english.htm
http://www.giovannipastore.it/ARCHIMEDES.htm

 

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Representation of an ancient Egyptian chariot.
The wheel can be considered mankind’s most important invention, the utility of which is still applied in multiple spheres of our daily life. While most other inventions have been derived from nature itself, the wheel is 100% a product of human imagination. Even today, it would be difficult to imagine what it would be like without wheels, since movement as we know it would be undeniably impossible.

Myths & Legends

 “Cadmus Slays the Dragon” by Hendrik Goltzius. The Greek myth of Cadmus fighting the serpent may be an allegory for the discovery of the Amazon River. In various accounts, the snake is instead referred to as a dragon or serpent.
The ancient Greek myth of Cadmus battling a snake could be an allegory for the discovery of the Amazon River, said Dr. Enrico Mattievich, a retired professor of physics from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) in Brazil. Mattievich wrote a book titled “Journey to the Mythological Inferno” in 2011, exploring connections between Greek myths and South American geographical and historical sites.

Ancient Technology

Representation of an ancient Egyptian chariot.
The wheel can be considered mankind’s most important invention, the utility of which is still applied in multiple spheres of our daily life. While most other inventions have been derived from nature itself, the wheel is 100% a product of human imagination. Even today, it would be difficult to imagine what it would be like without wheels, since movement as we know it would be undeniably impossible.

Opinion

El Caracol Observatory at Chichen Itza (Wright Reading/CC BY-NC 2.0) and Composite 3D laser scan image of El Caracol from above
In 1526, the Spanish conquistador Francisco de Montejo arrived on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and found most of the great Maya cities deeply eroded and unoccupied. Many generations removed from the master builders, engineers, and scientists who conceived and built the cities, the remaining Maya they encountered had degenerated into waring groups who practiced blood rituals and human sacrifice.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article