Derek J. de Solla Price
The Antikythera Mechanism is one of the most remarkable artefacts ever discovered. It was found by sponge divers off the coast of the Aegean island of Antikythera just over a century ago. The device consists of four fragments with a total of 30 bronze gears.
Very little intensive investigation was done until the early 1950’s when Derek J. de Solla Price (1922-1983) a professor at Yale University undertook a study of the Mechanism. His conclusions were published in a number of papers including Gears from the Greeks, now available as a pdf file(r).
It was originally dated to the 1st century BC and had been ascribed by some to the Greek astronomer Hipparchos, but recent research by Professor Alexander Jones of New York’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World has pushed this back to the 2nd century BC(b). Jones dismissed as ‘desperate’ a suggestion by Dr. Jo Marchant, that the mechanism had been part of a timepiece that possibly controlled the sequential appearance of figures to indicate seasons. Marchant is the author of Decoding the Heavens: Solving the Mystery of the World’s First Computer.
A report(n) published in November 2014 revised further the date of its creation back to 205 BC. This modification includes the suggestion that the mathematics upon which the Mechanism were based were Babylonian rather than Greek. The level of ancient Greek celestial knowledge is also being reappraised in the light of a recent study of a decorated cup of a type known as a skyphos(o).
The superiority of Babylonian mathematics was supported by a recent study of a 3,700-year-old tablet known as Plimpton 322. The tablet was discovered around a century ago in what is now southern Iraq. Australian scientists from the University of New South Wales, Sydney have now demonstrated that the tablet is the world’s oldest and most accurate trigonometric table, predating the Greek astronomer Hipparchos by over a millennium(z).
The Mechanism is apparently a clockwork device for calculating astronomical events. A number of models have been built(c), based on the evidence of the fragments discovered and further study is continuing. Even Lego was used by designer Andrew Carol to build a replica of the mechanism(e)(d). Furthermore, in November 2011 Hublot, the Swiss watch manufacturer, revealed(h) that they had designed a wristwatch based on the Antikythera Mechanism.
In 2008, it was announced that writing engraved on the housing indicated the locations of athletic games; “The Games dial shows six competitions, four Panhellenic (Olympics, Pythian, Isthmian, and Nemean) plus Naa (Dodona) and very probably Halieia (Rhodes)(w).“
At same time, a possible connection with the renowned Archimedes was being posited by some commentators(f). An even more remarkable feature was the clever use of two gears, one positioned slightly off-centre in relation to the other, allowing the mechanism to track the apparent speeding up and slowing down of the moon each month, resulting from its elliptical rather than circular orbit(g).
The question that has now arisen is whether “It is possible that the mechanism is based on heliocentric principles, rather than the then-dominant geocentric view espoused by Aristotle and others.”(ab)
Dr. Minas Tsikritsis, a Cretan researcher, maintains that an object from the Minoan Age discovered
in 1898 in the Paleokastro site on Crete, was in fact “a cast for building a mechanism that functioned as an analog computer to calculate solar and lunar eclipses.”(i) This was nearly a millennium and a half before the Antikythera Mechanism was manufactured, which would make it Minoan.
Commentators such as David Hatcher Childress see the Antikythera device as just another piece of evidence of more complex scientific knowledge among early cultures than is usually accepted and that by extension the possibility of a technologically advanced Atlantis.
In his 2014 book, The Stonhenge Codes, Professor David P.Gregg, has devoted an appendix to the sophistication of the mechanism, in which he discusses the functions of individual shafts and gears. His objective is to show that its complexity is comparable to that of Stonehenge and that our view of early Greek mathematics and astronomy requires revision. His book can be read online(j).
A January 2019 article elaborates further on the Mechanism’s function as a predictor of possible eclipses(ae). It may be worth recalling that in the 1960’s, Gerald Hawkins suggested that the 56 Aubrey Holes at Stonehenge were also eclipse predictors, an idea endorsed by Fred Hoyle.(af)
>More recently (Feb.2020), Alexander Jones, has offered a highly technical investigation((ag) of the possible date for the construction of the Mechanism and concluded that “while the dating of the eclipse series inscribed on the Mechanism’s Saros Dial taken by itself may suggest a dating of the Mechanism’s construction somewhere within the 76 years after 205/204 BCE, other considerations such as the archaeological context in which it was found, together with what is otherwise known of the development of Greek astronomy in the Hellenistic period, may outweigh this preference and favor a later date.”<
Opus Gemini, a trilogy of novels by Andreas Möhn, based on the Antikythera Mechanism was published on Kindle format in September 2013 and is also available in other formats. Further information and updates are available on his website(m).
The following website(a), will keep you up to date on related developments.
New Scientist announced on June 4th 2014(k) that plans have been made to dive again to the Antikythera wreck in the hope of finding a second ‘mechanism’, using a ‘wearable submarine’. The Sept/Oct season of 2014 ended with evidence that the ship had been up to 50 metres long, making it thelargest ancient shipwreck ever discovered(l).
The February 2015 edition of Smithsonian Magazine gives an up-todate review of the scientific studies of the Mechanism(p). In June 2016 the Smithsonian returned to the subject with an article(u) devoted to the extensive writing, some less than a millimetre tall, revealed by CT scans on virtually every surface. This recent study indicates that the Mechanism also appears to have an astrological purpose! These investigations also pointed to the Aegean island of Rhodes as its place of manufacture.
In August 2016, further dives confirmed that “the ancient cargo in Antikythera, still full of goods, is located at a depth of around 60 metres, making the work of divers particularly difficult. They only have 20 minutes to explore the sea. To help them, a set of submarine drones are currently being developed for next year. They will detect metal and make real-time analyses of the data collected.”(v)
Another paper(t) in 2015 offers a more complete history of the Mechanism’s discovery and subsequent studies.
In 2017, further objects were recovered from the wreck, including parts of a metal statue, as well as compacted metal objects that have yet to be cleaned and separated. It seems that the site has not yielded all its secrets yet(aa). There are indications that there may be as many as nine statues still to be recovered, which are under huge boulders that overlie the metal objects and may have tumbled onto the wreck during a massive earthquake that shook Antikythera and surrounding islands in the 4th century AD.
A physically smaller but important discovery was that of the part of a gearwheel in Olbia, Sardinia in 2006. Giovanni Pastore, an Italian mechanical engineer, has studied the object and written an article(s) on it for the Ancient Origins website, where he informs us that it is “dated between the mid-2nd century and the end of the 3rd century BC, has revealed a very important surprise: the teeth have a special curving which make them extraordinarily similar to the mathematically perfect profile used in modern gears. Moreover, the unusual composition of the alloy (brass) was completely unexpected.”
Inevitably, the suggestion has be made that first century BC Greeks could not have created the Mechanism without alien assistance as the following quote shows; “While many experts try to offer explanations for how this device could have been conceived, designed and built, all their concepts fail the tests of logic. There is only one possible explanation. Beings with advanced knowledge of astronomical bodies, mathematics and precision engineering tools created the device or gave the knowledge for its creation to someone during the first century B.C. But the knowledge was not recorded or wasn’t passed down to anyone else.“(x) It is also humourously ‘suggested’ that the early Greeks had laptops!!(q)
For the technically minded, a clockmaker known just as ‘Chris’ has an extensive website(y) where he has a number of videos illustrating how he has reconstructed copies of individual components of the Antikythera Mechanism.
In 2018, Charles River Editors have produced a fascinating volume  that offers a valuable history of the Mechanism and the various efforts to determine its origin and purpose.
A few days ago (17.11.18) it was announced that a missing piece of the Mechanism had been found near the site of the original finds(ac). However, the Smithsonian Magazine swiftly adopted a more cautious approach(ad), claiming that it was probably not a piece of the Mechanism! Watch this space.
(e) See: Archive 3800
(x) See: Archive 3352
(z) Historia Mathematica, August 2017.