The Antikythera Mechanism

September 7, 2006

I read about this recently in Discover Magazine.  It was just a little blurb, but I leapt from my chair in amazement.  Never before did I know that the Greeks had mastered such fine gearing.  Who would have guessed that a society from 2000 years ago had inventors that rivaled Charles Babbage.  Moreover, this is not new.  It was discovered over 100 years ago and has been written about fairly often.  I am an unabashed geek and yet somehow I missed learning about this incredible device.  Here’s a link to an article written about it in 1959 from Scientific American.  It’s also on Wikipedia.

The greeks didn’t have electricity.  They didn’t have gun powder.  They didn’t even have iron works.  Apparently, though, they understood astronomy, mathematics and bronze smithing.

This device apparently helped with sea navigation.  It is self-dating too by the calendar-like aspects of the inscriptions on the device to 80 BC.  It’s almost crushingly telling in it’s power to show the thinking used and it’s regarded as the very first scientific instrument produced, if not the very first mechanical computer.

To me this object holds true preciousness because it is an anchor point in human history and of scientific thought.  It’s also a warning that bright people and far ahead thinking in science can’t save a civilization over time.  Or, as stated in the Scientific American article: “It is a bit frightening to know that just before the fall of their great civilization the ancient Greeks had come so close to our age, not only in their thought, but also in their scientific technology.”

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