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The Mysterious Antikythera Mechanism Even More Ancient than We Thought


Image credit: The ultimate steampunk device may be older than was previously thought. Tilemahos Efthimiadis via Wikimedia Commons.

According to the latest research, the amazing Antikythera mechanism is much older than scientists thought before. It is suggested that it should be started 1800 years ago rather than 1500 years ago.

Being discovered in the wreck of a sunken ship in 1901 in the Aegean Sea around 60 BC, the origins of mechanism are not confirmed. And it could be applied for calculation of astronomical motion, thus being regarded as kind of the pioneer of computers.

The device is so sophisticated that it remains a mystery, because it was much developed than any instrument known at that time, even in the centuries thereafter. Although some parts of it were missing due to a long time in the briny deep, it still had 30 gears at least after examination. Actually it is the representative of the pinnacle of technology of the ancient world, but disappeared during the Dark Ages.

If devices like this could have survived, it would be much easier for Kepler to be engaged in explaining the orbits of the planets. Although it was possible for the makers to be unaware of the reason why the moon would slow down and speed up in its orbit, they should know such phenomenon. Actually the mechanism could mimic it in a pretty precise way.

With multi-functions, the mechanism could be used for predicting eclipses. The further study of its dials demonstrated that it was operating on a calender from the beginning of 205 BC.

As for the time when mechanism was made, it is estimated that it should be gradually pushed back, beginning with the year when it was sunken. Being housed in a box, the engravings of the device was dated to 80 to 90BC; however the lettering seemed consistent with a date of 100 to 150BC.

It was believed by Dr. Christian Carman of Argentina’s National University of Quilmes and Dr. James Evans of the University of Puget Sound that they had already identified the solar eclipse occurring in the 13th month of the mechanism’s calender. If it was the case, this would make its start date, when the dials were turned to zero, May 205BC.

As Carman and Evans said, they also explored some possibilities for the theory that underlies the eclipse times on the Saros dial and discovered that a Babylonian-style arithmetical scheme using daily velocities and an equation of center would fit into the inscribed times of day pretty well. In fact, an arithmetic scheme for the eclipse times was much better than a trigonometric model in matching the evidence in some way.

Although in theory the device might have been built with a starting date set a quite long time before its construction, it should decrease its usefulness. Even if the mechanism was precise, the errors should be naturally accumulated so as to reduce its accuracy, therefore its makers would not have intended to begin using it too far in the past.

It has been speculated that Archimedes would be the inventor of the Mechanism, If not so, his inspiration should be behind for its creation at least. But the Babylonia influence would make it impossible, although the starting date was just seven years after his murder.


H/T io9