Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Strange Archaeology: Ancient Computer
Would Alexander Bell prefer iPhone or Android? What if Paul Revere had Twitter? Imagining today's technology in the hands of historical figures is almost comedic because they lived in such a different world than us. How dramatic would this type of comparison be if the time period spanned 14 centuries instead of just 3 centuries? Let's see.
This is a first century analog computer known within antiquities circles as the Antikythera Mechanism.
No, it's not the barometer that hanged on your grandma's wall. It is an astrological clock. A hand crank rotated up to 30 interlocking bronze gears which powered dials housed within a small wooden box.
The Antikythera Mechanism was capable of calculating moon phases, solar cycles, planetary positions and the timing of ancient olympic games with stunning precision. It even accounted for leap year.
In 1900, a Greek sponge diver discovered this relic within the wreckage of an ancient cargo ship off the Antikythera coast. It had corroded into a green clump of rocks, in which scientists later found embedded gears.
They assumed this astrological clock, possessing the workmanship and complexity typical of 15th century Europe, had somehow found its way into a first century wreckage. The case was closed until the 1950's, when scientists finally discovered the shocking truth behind this anachronism.
The Antikythera mechanism is displayed at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.