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The enigmatic device has been studied for one hundred years since it was discovered. According to researchers, the 2,100-year-old device was the world’s oldest computer and now there may be a completely unknown HIDDEN purpose inside the mechanism itself.
According to experts, there may be an unknown purpose inside the famous Antikythera mechanism. It seems that our planet’s oldest computer may not have been used as a mere navigational tool after all.
The Antikythera mechanism is commonly referred to as the oldest computer on the planet. Ever since its discovery, this fascinating mechanical device has captured the interests of numerous researchers, archaeologists and historians one hundred years after its discovery, and scholars have still failed to fully understand its purpose. The metal device consists of 37 different types of gears and is so complex that many consider it the first analog computer made by man. Found housed in a 340 mm × 180 mm × 90 mm wooden box, the device is a complex clockwork mechanism composed of at least 30 meshing bronze gears. Its remains were found as 82 separate fragments, of which only seven contain any gears or significant inscriptions. The largest gear (clearly visible in Fragment A at right) is approximately 140 mm in diameter and originally had 223 teeth.
The extremely corroded device was found inside the remains of a shipwreck located near the Mediterranean Island of Antikythera.
Now, research claims that the enigmatic apparatus may not have been used just as a navigational instrument in the distant past and that there is a hidden purpose inside of it.
“An enticing possibility is that the Antikythera mechanism was on the ship because it was being delivered to a customer,” says Mike Edmunds of Cardiff University, writing for the Conversation.
“The mechanism was not, as sometimes claimed, a navigational device and navigation was not the reason for its presence. If one device was being delivered, might there be more – if not on this ship, then perhaps on others from Rhodes?”
Mike Edmunds explains his theory:
When we talk of the history of computers, most of us will refer to the evolution of the modern digital desktop PC, charting the decades-long developments by the likes of Apple and Microsoft. What many don’t consider, however, is that computers have been around much longer. In fact, they date back millennia, to a time when they were analogue creations.
The mechanism has since been established as the first known astronomical calendar, a complex system which can track and predict the cycles of the solar system. Technically, it is a sophisticated mechanical “calculator” rather than a true “computer”, since it cannot be reprogrammed, but nonetheless an impressive artefact.
The inscriptions are thought to have been a description for the user of what it was they were viewing as they operated the mechanism. However, the newly published texts add more to what we know of the mechanism: they establish that the positions of the five planets known in antiquity were also shown – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
The planets were displayed on the machine in a way that took account of their rather irregular “wanderings” about the sky. Such a display had been suspected, and the confirmation reinforces that this was a very sophisticated and quite complicated device. The actual gear trains needed for the display of the planets are missing – presumably lost in the shipwreck – but we know from the very ingenious way that the sun and moon drives are designed and constructed that the makers of the mechanism certainly had the skills necessary to make the planetary drive.
The newly uncovered inscriptions include passages about what stars were just becoming visible –- or about to be lost in the glare of the sun – at different times of year. The style of these passages is very close to that of a well-known astronomical text by Greek astronomer and mathematician Geminos from the first Century BC. Not only does this tie in perfectly with the presumed date of the shipwreck (around 60BC), but also the latitude – which is implied by stellar data to be mid-Mediterranean – which would fit nicely with the mechanism originating on the island of Rhodes, from where there is a contemporary historic record from the writer Cicero of such devices.
To understand the Antikythera mechanism, what is really needed is more artefacts or texts on mechanical devices from the classical era. Unfortunately the recycling of valuable metal, both in ancient and medieval times, has resulted in nearly all mechanisms being destroyed.
Divers have returned to the Antikythera wreck this year, so perhaps the missing parts of the planetary display will turn up. An enticing possibility is that the Antikythera mechanism was on the ship because it was being delivered to a customer. The mechanism was not, as sometimes claimed, a navigational device and navigation was not the reason for its presence. If one device was being delivered, might there be more – if not on this ship, then perhaps on others from Rhodes? New devices might help indicate how widely geared technology developed, before almost completely disappearing from view in the rather obscure period that lasted from 500AD until the sudden blossoming again of gearwork in the era of the medieval cathedral clocks from about 1180AD, well over a millennium after the Antikythera mechanism.
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