Exploded model of the Cosmos gearing of the Antikythera Mechanism
©2020 Tony Freeth
A team of scientists at the University College London has shed new light on the Antikythera Mechanism – the world’s first computer and one of the ancient world’s greatest technological mysteries. Using new imaging data, the multidisciplinary UCL Antikythera Research Team found that the 2,000-year-old device was not only a calculator, but an accurate model of the Cosmos as it was known to the ancient Greeks.
In 1901, Greek sponge divers found a sunken ship dating back to the 1st century BCE off the coast of the island of Antikythera in the Aegean Sea between Crete and the Peloponnese. Aboard was a treasure of artworks that may have been meant for a triumph parade for Julius Caesar in Rome.
Among the various statues, pots, and jewels were fragments of a lump of corroded bronze. A year after being recovered, it was realized that there were gear teeth sticking out of one of the fragments. Examination soon revealed that what became known as the Antikythera Mechanism was like nothing that had been previously found or even suspected from the ancient world.
To put it simply, it was an analog computer powered by turning a wheel to perform a wide range of astronomical calculations using differential gearing – something the Greeks were supposed to know nothing about. Worse, there wasn’t anything remotely like this device known from the time of the ancient Greeks. In fact, such complex gearing wouldn’t be seen again until the development of astronomical clocks in Europe in the 14th century.a