More than twenty-first centuries ago, Greece developed a mechanism of incredible ingenuity for the time, a device that indicated exactly what the sky would look like in the coming decades – the position of the sun and moon, the phases of the moon and even eclipses. But this amazing invention drowned at sea, and its secret would be forgotten for two thousand years in a wreck until May 17, 1902 when archaeologist Valerios Stais found the mechanism and gave it a second life.
Article prepared from: PrimeMovies.co.uk
Mechanism from Antikythera – an amazing discovery
For more than a century researchers have been trying to understand its functions. Since 2005. A multidisciplinary research team of the Greek island’s “Antikythera Mechanism Research Project” has been studying the mechanism using the latest available advanced technology. The results of this ongoing research have enabled the construction of many models. Among them, a unique watch mechanism, designed by Hublot as a tribute to the mechanism, includes the known functions of this mysterious and fascinating ancient mechanism. A model of the Antikythera Mechanism, built by Aristotle University in Greece, along with the watch mechanism and this 3D film are on display at an exhibition on the Mechanism held in Paris at the Musée des Arts et Métiers. Original fragments of the Mechanism, its main models and the watch designed by Hublot are on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece. So what is the Mechanism of Antikythera? What does science say today?
Mechanism from Antikythera – the principle of operation
The mechanism is so sophisticated that no one would have believed in its existence had it not been found. Even much simpler machinery would have aroused sensations. This bronze object was created 2000 years ago in Greece – it allowed to see into the future. According to research – it was the first ancient mechanical computer. More than 100 years ago, divers fished it out in a wreck with treasures from ancient Greece, among priceless sculptures. It was named – “the mechanism of Antikythera”. The ancient designer did an incredible thing, with the help of a system of gears he mapped the movements of the planets and the moon. His work is a manifestation of incredible genius – which turned out to be a hellishly difficult puzzle.
The motions of the planets and the sun and moon modeled by the mechanism are based on the ancient Greek theories of respect and epicycle, which involve two circular motions. The transfer of this theory to physical form can be achieved by means of an epicyclic gear, in which the center of one gear rotates around the center of the other. Freeth and Jones describe the function of the planetary mechanism as follows:
The gear wheel rotates at the rate of the deferent, and the second gear wheel mounted epicyclically in the first gear rotates at the rate of the epicycle. A slotted tappet, rotating on the axis of the deferent, follows a pin attached to the gear wheel. The tappet is connected to a tube, and the pointer is attached to the tube. This produces an alternating motion.
Reconstruction of the mechanism from Antikythera
In 2012. The Antikythera mechanism which archaeologist Valerios Stais found near a Greek island on May 17, 1902, was on display as part of a temporary exhibition about the Antikythera shipwreck, accompanied by reconstructions by Ioannis Theofanidis, Derek de Solli Price, Michael Wright, Thessaloniki University and Dionysios Kriaris. Other reconstructions can be seen at the American Computer Museum in Bozeman, Montana, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan in New York, the Astronomisch-Physikalisches Kabinett in Kassel, Germany, and the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris.
The National Geographic Naked Science documentary series had an episode specifically dedicated to the Antikythera mechanism titled “BC’s Star Clock,” which aired on January 20, 2011. The documentary, “The World’s First Computer,” was produced in 2012 by Antikythera mechanism researcher-producer Tony Freeth. in 2012. BBC Four aired “The Two-Thousand-Year-Old Computer” was also broadcast on April 3, 2013. In the United States in the science series NOVA , PBS , under the name “Ancient Computer”.
It documents the discovery and study of the mechanism in 2005. By the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project. A fully working Lego reconstruction of the Antikythera Mechanism was built in 2010 by hobbyist Andi Carrol and featured in a short film produced by Small Mammal in 2011. Several exhibitions have been staged around the world, leading to the main “Antikythera shipwreck “at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece. A fictional version of the device was the centerpiece of the feature film Stonehenge Apocalypse (2010), which used it as an artifact that saved the world from its impending doom. Erich von Däniken, in his 1968 book Chariots of the Gods, presented it as one of many “proofs” of ancient aliens visiting earth and leaving behind technology.
New findings about the mechanism from Antikythera
The journal Scintific Reports has published a paper entitled “A Model of the Cosmos in the ancient Greek Antikythera Mechanism,” authored by an international research team forming the Antikythera Research Team. It includes Tony Freeth, David Higgon, Aris Dacanalis, Lindsay MacDonald, Myrto Georgakopoulou and Adam Wojcik. The researchers reconstructed the missing part of the entire mechanism, this allowed them to obtain a complete picture of the object. Only 1/3 of the entire device was preserved to modern times, which significantly hindered the understanding of its function. The researchers created a visualization based on the preserved fragments and put a hypothetical appearance of the object from 2,000 years ago in the research paper. The reconstruction of the appearance of the front and back plates has made a significant contribution to uncovering the hitherto unknown function of the Antikythera device.
How did the team of researchers work?
The research team involved researchers working in a variety of scientific fields, in order to holistically and accurately approach the mechanism from Antikythera. The project involved mathematicians, clock mechanism specialists, material scientists, archaeometallurgists, computer imaging specialists and physicists. The result was a multidisciplinary team that set itself the goal of understanding the construction, meaning and function of the entire device. Underpinning the entire process, were studies conducted in earlier years by other scientists. These included scanning the mechanism with X-rays, which made it possible to discover the metal fragments of the device inside, the purpose of which had hitherto been unclear. Until now, it was thought that the device was only capable of analyzing the movements of the Moon. The scientists created a new model of the mechanism, which in its external design was based on the designs of previous researchers, but in the internal arrangement of elements differed dramatically from the work of predecessors. In earlier years, it was suggested that the Antikythera device could have been used to determine the position of the other planets, but conclusive evidence supporting this theory was lacking.
The significance of the text discovered on the Antikythera mechanism
Thanks to X-rays, inscriptions were discovered on the surface of the mechanism’s back case, which shed new light on the function of the entire device. The text found contained in its content descriptions of 5 planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. Why were inscriptions with such content placed on the device? Because it turned out that the text acted as instructions for the user operating the device. The discovery of this fact by the research team, was a watershed moment in the whole process of bringing mankind closer to the purpose for which the Antikythera device was used. The challenge for the authors of the publication “A Model of the Cosmos in the ancient Greek Antikythera Mechanism” was to prove that the entire mechanism could have been constructed at the time the device was created. The problem was the positioning of the part of the device indicating the position of the Moon relative to the Sun. In order for the device to function properly, it was necessary to have a design that would allow not only rectilinear movement, indicating changes in the moon’s phases, but also its rotation. Previously, it was thought that for mechanical reasons it was impossible for the device to function in this form, as this would indicate incorrect readings. It was not until a team of specialists from the Antikythera Research Team managed to solve this problem.
New discovery of the research team in 2021
On one of the spokes found in the device, a fragment was found that was thought to be responsible for connecting the mechanism marking the cyclic system of the Sun with the one symbolizing the phases of the Moon. This meant that this piece of the mechanism was sufficient to merge the two parts of the device, and thus made it possible to faithfully represent the movements of both celestial bodies. The answer to the question of how the ancient Greeks perceived the planets they saw in the sky remained unknown. The knowledge of astronomers 2,000 years ago, was based on the erroneous assumption that all the planets and the Sun move around the Earth. Attempts to determine the position of the planets and their predictable movement were already made by the Babylonians by recording the daily positions of the heavenly bodies in the sky, but it was not until the ancient Greeks constructed a machine that, thanks to the technology used, could make such measurements independently. The premise of the research team was to recreate the gear system in order to understand the ancient people’s approach to the planets. The front casing of the mechanism from Antikythera contained inscriptions initially impossible to decipher, but once again X-ray scanning came to the rescue. It was possible to decipher the text on the front and it turned out that it contains descriptions of the position of the various planets in the sky with the accuracy of days. Indeed, specific numbers are mentioned in the text – 224, 349, 82, 139, 104. In addition, the researchers discovered that each inscription is assigned to a specific planet, having its counterpart on the back of the Antikythera device case. The discovery of two more numbers (462 and 442), which corresponded to the cycles of Venus and Saturn, proved to be a breakthrough. This showed that the Antikythera device must also have had a similar function for the other planets, as in the case of the Sun and Moon.
How did the ancient Greeks have knowledge regarding the movements of the planets?
The research team found the solution to this problem in information left behind by the ancient philosophers, Parmenides and Plato. These messages, were related to the technical details of the whole device. Thus, it was discovered that the individual value for each planet, corresponds to the number of teeth in the gear mechanisms. The device was simplified in such a way that by finding a common number divisible by the values that corresponded to each planet, fewer gears could be used. This resulted in a situation where one gear wheel corresponded to more than one planet, which significantly simplified the design of the entire mechanism.
Models made by scientists
The creation of theoretical models of the entire device, made it possible to transfer the information gained through the work of archaeologists contained on its surface, to practical application. Scientists made model gears for each of the five planets. The reproduction of identical gears as those used by the ancient Greeks made it possible to confirm that the device was fully functional. All the calculations that the Greeks made when constructing the object turned out to have a perfect translation into practice. Thanks to this, the mechanism from Antikythera could be reproduced confirming the fact that it was a 100 percent functional device.
Breakthrough discovery by Antikythera Research Team scientists
The research carried out by the specialists of the Antikythera Research Team and the publication that came out on the basis of it are of great importance for the full discovery of the function of the object, known as the Antikythera mechanism. The researchers also relied on all the records, notes and findings made by the scientists since the device was retrieved from the wreck at the bottom of the sea. Until the Antikythera Research Team completed its work, however, these results were incomplete, as for a very long time it was impossible to decipher the notes coming from the front of the case. By piecing together the information already known, deciphering the meaning of several fragments that had previously been a mystery, and creating high-quality models through the use of state-of-the-art technology, the researchers were able to solve the mystery of an object that had fascinated generations of scientists for more than 100 years. The goal achieved by the researchers, can be attributed to cooperation between specialists in many fields. Previous failures were often caused by a group of scientists working on the mechanism, studying the object in one aspect. The researchers of the Antikythera Research Team decided to take a multidisciplinary approach, and it yielded the expected results.
The importance of the ancient Greeks’ knowledge of the movements of the planets
The people of Hellada made a lasting mark on world culture and history with their achievements in many fields. The works of Greek philosophers and poets, are analyzed what examples of excellent work to this day, despite the passage of several millennia. We also associate the ancient Greeks as excellent thinkers, scientists and inventors. They were many years ahead of the era in many respects, as evidenced by the fact that some of the inventions of that period were only able to be reproduced in the 17th or 19th century. The mechanism from Antikythera allows us to add another great invention to the achievements of the Greek people. This seemingly ordinary device excavated from a shipwreck, resting for two thousand years at the bottom of the sea, testifies to the extraordinary construction skills of the inventors of the time. It is a wonderful example of combining analytical knowledge with practical application. The fact that the ancient Greeks were interested in the subject of astronomy and the movements of the planets and celestial bodies shows how broad their interests were. This translated into an invention, which is an inconspicuous device from Antikythera. The ancient Greeks managed to build an intricate mechanism whose mode of operation, construction and full function have only been known in the 21st century, using the latest technological solutions. The device from Antikythera is proof of the genius of the people living at that time, and the recent discoveries of the team working on the mechanism have made it possible to finally reveal to the world the function of the object, thus uncovering and explaining one of the greatest mysteries associated with intriguing devices from thousands of years ago. The original of the mechanism will most likely rest in a closely guarded museum in Athens, and will be a tangible example of the fact that, thanks to modern research, any mystery is solvable.
Antikythera – between Crete and Kithira
Antikythera or Antikythera ( literally “opposite Kythera “) is a Greek island located at the edge of the Aegean Sea between Crete and the Peloponnese. Since the reform of the local government in 2011. It is part of the municipality of the island of Kythera. Antikythera may also refer to the Strait of Antikythera, through which modified Mediterranean water flows into the Sea of Crete. It has an area of 20.43 square kilometers (7.89 square miles), and lies 38 kilometers (24 miles) southeast of Kythira. It is the farthest part of the Attica region from its heart in the Athens metropolitan area. It is diamond-shaped, 10.5 kilometers (6.5 mi) NNW to the SEZ and 3.4 kilometers (2.1 mi) ENE to the WSW. It is a notable site for the discovery of the Antikythera mechanism and the historic Antikythera wreck. It is interesting to note that in 2019 the Greek Orthodox Church announced that new residents can expect 500 euros, or about 2,100 zlotys per month for at least three years if they settle on the island. Local authorities are primarily looking for bakers, fishermen, farmers and builders. Those willing will get a house for free, a plot of land to cultivate and exemption from taxes for as many as five years! The condition is that after five years they must establish a tourist business, such as a hotel or pub.
For those interested in moving, we provide contact information:
Tel: +30 2736033004
Fax: +30 2736033471
Office of the Secretary of the Community
Kapsali, 80100 Kythera
Tel. and fax +30 2736031930
Rooms and apartments for rent
City Hostel: 0030 27360 33004
Sofia: 0030 27360 33040 and 0030 6977870104 and 0030 6938378671
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Map showing Antikythera, one of Greece’s wildest islands
Videos about the mechanism from Antikythera
“What is the Antikythera mechanism” – sources of information:
Cosmos in the Antikythera Mechanism , ISAW Papers 4 (February 2012), Tony Freeth and Alexander Jones
Antikythera Mechanism, National Archaeological Museum