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Culture > Current Affairs > ANTIKYTHERA MECHANISM SOLVED

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submitted by John Stathatos on 04.12.2006

ANTIKYTHERA MECHANISM SOLVED

One of the oldest archaeological puzzles, that of the nature and purpose of the so-called Antikythera Mechanism, appears to have been finally cracked by the international Antikythera Mechanism Research Project (AMRP). This mysterious object, which now consists of a large, complex metallic mass plus another 81 fragments of various sizes, went down when the ship it was carried in sank of Antikythera around 80 BC. The wreck was discovered at depths of between 45 and 60 metres by sponge-divers from the island of Simi in 1900, and its contents were brought to the surface the following year. In 1902, archaeologist Valerios Stais of the Athens Archaeological Museum recognised the existence of gears in the copper mass, and realised that it must have been a mechanical device of some kind. The mechanism was studied intensively over the following decades, but while it was clearly recognised as the most complex mechanical object to have survived from antiquity, its precise function continued to baffle researchers.

The most recent attempt, that of the AMRP, was a cross-disciplinary effort employing the most up-to-date techniques, including X-Tek’s 8-ton Blade Runner scanner and Hewlett-Packard’s PTM Dome digital imaging device. The team included astronomers Mike Edmunds (Cardiff University), Ioannis Seiradakis (U. of Salonika) and Xenophon Mousas (Athens U.), mathematician Tony Freeth (Cardiff U.), physicist Ioannis Bitsakis (Athens U.), archaeologist Mary Zafeiropoulou (National Archaeological Museum) and palaeographer Agamemnon Tselikas (Cultural Institute of the National Bank of Greece).

The first results of their research have been just published in the prestigious scientific periodical Nature under the title “Decoding the ancient Greek astronomical calculator known as the Antikythera mechanism”. In effect, they argue that the device, almost certainly based on the theories of the mathematician and geographer Hipparchus (190-120 BC), who in turn appears to have had access to the meticulous astronomical records of the Babylonians, was in essence a portable astronomical calculator; using a complex system of more than 30 interlocking gears, one of which corresponded to the Babylonian great lunar year (19 years, or 235 complete lunar months), it would have been possible to make a series of accurate predictions, including those of solar and lunar eclipses.

In the light of this discovery, it is apparent that both the scientific knowledge and the technical achievements of the Hellenistic period are due for radical revaluation. For more information, consult the site www.antikythera-mechanism.com and www.antikythera-mechanism.gr.

George Poulos has also gathered together material and several links on the subject on this site. Go to:
http://www.kythera-family.net/index.php?nav=64&hits=20&searchword=mechanism5-48&did=1883-1

John Stathatos

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submitted by
George Poulos
on 21.12.2006

357:I concur with John that the www.antikythera-mechanism.com web-site is a superb source of information on the Antikythera mechanism. You can now download the abstracts of the November Conference on the website. The Antikythera Mechanism is "rediscovered" by scientists in each generation - and information regarding its form and function are added to incrementally. There are about 30 references to the mechanism on kythera-family.net as of December 2006. The following brief article is from: http://www.physorg.com/news68796309.html The size of a shoebox, a mysterious bronze device scooped out of a Roman-era shipwreck at the dawn of the 20th century has baffled scientists for years. Now a British researcher has stunningly established it as the world's oldest surviving astronomy computer. A team of Greek and British scientists probing the secrets of the Antikythera Mechanism has managed to decipher ancient Greek inscriptions unseen for over 2,000 years, members of the project say. "Part of the text on the machine, over 1,000 characters, had already been deciphered, but we have succeeded in doubling this total," said physician Yiannis Bitsakis, part of a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from universities in Athens, Salonika and Cardiff, the Athens National Archaeological Museum and the Hewlett-Packard company. "We have now deciphered 95 percent of the text," he told AFP. Scooped out of a Roman shipwreck located in 1900 by sponge divers near the southern Greek island of Antikythera, and kept at the Athens National Archaeological Museum, the Mechanism contains over 30 bronze wheels and dials, and is covered in astronomical inscriptions. Probably operated by crank, it survives in three main pieces and some smaller fragments. "(The device) could calculate the position of certain stars, at least the Sun and Moon, and perhaps predict astronomical phenomena," said astrophysicist Xenophon Moussas of Athens University. "It was probably rare, if not unique," he added. The rarity of the Antikythera Mechanism precluded its removal from the museum, so an eight-tonne 'body scanner' had to be assembled on-site for the privately-funded project, which used three-dimensional tomography to expose the unseen inscriptions. The first appraisal of the Mechanism's purpose was put forward in the 1960s by British science historian Derek Price, but the scientists' latest discovery raises more questions. "It is a puzzle concerning astronomical and mathematical knowledge in antiquity," said Moussas. "The Mechanism could actually rewrite certain chapters in this area." "The challenge is to place this device into a scientific context, as it comes almost out of nowhere... and flies in the face of established theory that considers the ancient Greeks were lacking in applied technical knowledge," adds Bitsakis, also of Athens University. The researchers are also looking at the broader remains of the Roman ship -- believed to have sunk around 80 BC -- for clues to the Mechanism's origin. One theory under examination is that the device was created in an academy founded by the ancient Stoic philosopher Poseidonios on the Greek island of Rhodes. The writings of 1st-century AD Roman orator and philosopher Cicero -- himself a former student of Poseidonios -- cite a device with similarities to the Mechanism. "Like Alexandria, Rhodes was a great centre of astronomy at the time," said Moussas. "The boat where the device was discovered could have been part of a convoy to Rome, bearing treasure looted from the island for the purpose of a triumph parade staged by Julius Caesar." The new findings were discussed extensively at an international congress (www.antikythera-mechanism.gr) held in Athens in November