The Antikythera Mechanism: An Ancient Computer or the ‘Dial of Destiny’?

If you have watched Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, you will already have heard about the Antikythera Mechanism. It is highly unfortunate though, that the movie’s plot totally twisted the true function of this mechanism. 

Ancient Greeks, along with others, including Romans, Arabs, Egyptians, Chinese, Mayas, and other civilizations, had technology that was ahead of their time. Until now, scientists have been fascinated by their tech marvels. And what we might discover in the future might be even more impressive than the current discoveries, including the Parthenon, the Pyramids, statues, and many more ancient structures. Several tech miracles are saved to this day, along with many others that, unfortunately, we are only aware of thanks to manuscripts. One of the most impressive findings from ancient cultures is what is known to us as the Antikythera mechanism.

The Antikythera mechanism is an ancient artifact that is considered to be an analog computer, and it is the oldest one which was found to date. It is considered of Greek origin and is dated back in Hellenistic Period, around 150-100 B.C. or even 205 B.C. A possible hypothesis is that it was crafted around 87 B.C. by Geminus. But some experts believe it was crafted even by Apollonius of Rhode or by his School. Yet, nothing is known for sure. It was found in a ship-wreckage that took place near the Greek Antikythera island around 76-60 B.C., according to scientists at least.

The wreckage was spotted by a crew of Symian sponge-divers around early 1900 A.D. This strange mechanism was amongst the recovered treasures, but its value wasn’t recognized until 1902. Archaeologist Valerios Stais, on 17 May 1902, noticed that among the rock fragments was something like a gear, and that was enough to light up his interest. But unfortunately, further investigations didn’t occur until 1951.

A possible version of how the original mechanism looked like

At that time, the British archaeologist Derek J. De Solla Price became interested and examined the artifact. The findings were pretty impressive and considered important and innovative. Remarkably, this might not even be the first of its kind. Price has written down his notes, but the mechamism was thoroughly examined years later. The article that was published later, in 1974, was based on Gamma and X-ray scans conducted by a Greek team of the Democritus Foundation. After many studies, the mechanism is considered a hand-powered analog computer for complex astronomical calculations. It is impressive how precise it is, even by today’s standards.

The artifact puzzled early scholars because they considered that ancient Greeks had the theory basis but not the actual means to craft a complex device like this. But facts are facts, and according to some theories, it is also unknown if it was crafted only for astronomical calculations or if it was even something more or a part of something else (I believe this is what the newest Indiana Jones exploited).

So, the first computers appeared long before tech giants like IBM and bright personalities like Charles Babbage and Alan Turing conceived the modern-day computer concept. Considering that it might not be the first of its kind and that the Greeks weren’t the first to craft a similar device, we wonder what else we shall discover about ancient civilizations and their innovations in the future. We should also consider many physical or human catastrophes, such as Alexandria’s Library or religious rebellions. These sad examples of human history had a significant destructive impact on our tech and evolution in general.

If you want to learn more about the Antikythera mechanism in detail, you may visit this link. The first (analog) computer that was discovered yet is exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum of Greece. It is an important part of Greek culture that belongs to all humanity.

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