Antikythera Mechanism *
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 1950s when Derek J. de Solla Price (1922-1983) a professor at Yale University undertook a study of the Mechanism. His conclusions were published in several 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.
However, there is an inclination to look at the Antikythera in isolation and ignore the fact that as early as the 5th century BC “the Greeks were able to design and build self-directed machines. There is evidence that they built a bronze automaton of an eagle and a dolphin that were on display at the Olympic Games. Many of the automatons developed were only toys, such as the birds invented by Archytas (c. 428–347 BC). However, one inventor known as Philon of Byzantium (c. 280 BC–220 BC), invented a repeating crossbow.
It seems that in the Hellenistic period, developments in automation really advanced. In this period inventors used a complex system of levers, pulleys and wheels to build self-directed machinery. Rhodes became well known for its machine and there were two automatons in one of its main squares, to impress visitors.”(aq) To me, it appears that Antikythera Mechanism is just a natural development of the mechanical skills that had emerged at that time and was also used later by the Romans, but not to the same extent.
“Mark Anthony had an automaton of Julius Caesar, made of wax, depicting Caesar rising from his deathbed and turning, slowly, to display his twenty-three bleeding wounds to the crowd. This started a riot and led to Brutus and the other killers of Caesar fleeing the city.” (aq)
Furthermore, we should not think that the Mechanism is unique as similar devices were referred to by the Roman orator Cicero (106-43 BC) in his De Re Publica 1.14.(ar)
A report(n) published in November 2014 revised further the date of the Mechanism’s creation back to 205 BC. Further research by the American historian James Evans led him to offer the claim that the mathematics on which this machine is based (more precisely the arithmetic) does not correspond to the Greek, but does to the Babylonian(ai). 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 by Edgar J. Banks 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 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 the same time, a possible connection with the renowned Archimedes was 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.
Some 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 1960s, Gerald Hawkins suggested that the 56 Aubrey Holes at Stonehenge were also used as eclipse predictors +, an idea endorsed by Fred Hoyle +. John Edwin Wood in Sun, Moon & Standing Stones [1951.76] preferred Hoyle’s method over Hawkin’s. A 1999 paper has proposed a simpler method than those put forward by either Hawkins or Hoyle(ap). This matter is still the subject of debate(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 in the 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 the largest ancient shipwreck ever discovered(l).
The February 2015 edition of Smithsonian Magazine gives an up-to-date 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 makes them extraordinarily similar to the mathematically perfect profile used in modern gears. Moreover, the unusual composition of the alloy (brass) was completely unexpected.”
Further important technical information about the Olbia gearwheel is available on the Italian larazzodeltempo.it website(ak). Pastore explained, “that those who made the Wheel of Olbia had very advanced knowledge, from mathematics to astronomy, so the manufacturer of the gear wheel of Olbia has anticipated the knowledge of almost 2000 years.” He concluded that the gearwheel indicates that there was “a slow decay of scientific thought that lasted over time until the modern era.”
Inevitably, the suggestion has been 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 humorously ‘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, Smithsonian Magazine swiftly adopted a more cautious approach(ad), claiming that it was probably not a piece of the Mechanism! Watch this space.
In March 2021, further investigation revealed that the Mechanism also included “a complex planetarium on the ancient device’s face”, “that matches all the data and culminates in an elegant display of the ancient Greek Cosmos”, “showing the motion of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn—each represented by a small gem—along with the path of the Sun, the phases of the Moon, and the positions of the Zodiac constellations.”(ah)
The January 2022 edition of Scientific American has an article by Tony Freeth, in which he reviews the discovery and the gradual realisation of the purpose of the Mechanism, concluding with the following paragraph – “with the Antikythera mechanism, we are clearly not at the end of our story. We believe our work is a significant advance, but there are still mysteries to be solved. The UCL Antikythera Research Team is not certain that our reconstruction is entirely correct because of the huge loss of evidence. It is very hard to match all of the surviving information. Regardless, we can now see more clearly than ever what a towering achievement this object represents.” (al)
Tony Freeth et al published a paper(as) in August 2021 explaining how his team offered a reconstruction of the Mechanism designed to take account of the fact that it is “now split into 82 fragments, only a third of the original survives, including 30 corroded bronze gearwheels.”
In April 2022, an article in Live Science reported that “The mysterious Antikythera mechanism, thought by some to be the world’s first computer, was first ‘started up’ on Dec. 22, 178 B.C., archaeologists have now found.” (am)
Work continues at the underwater site as part of a five-year project, coordinated by the University of Geneva. “Since the ship was transporting the highest quality of luxury goods, there is a very real possibility of unimaginable finds, similar in importance to the Mechanism.”(an) In June 2022 the discovery of a marble head of Hercules was announced(ao).
(e) See: Archive 3800
(i) https://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com/2011/04/researcher-cites-ancient-minoan-era.html (link broken)
(j) https://www.scribd.com/document/318813275/The-Stonehenge-Codes-pdf (link broken)
(x) See: Archive 3352
(z) Historia Mathematica, August 2017.