The Antikythera Mechanism, an “ancient computer” discovered over a hundred years ago in 1900 off the coast of Greece, has just been decoded, according to Collective Evolution. The ancient computer is thought by researchers to have been used to predict eclipses, track the movement of the Sun, Moon, and stars, and to track the positions of the five planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) that were known to Greek astronomers over 2,000 years ago. The computer is actually a mechanical device that used bronze gears, and many historians agree the device was fashioned between 60 BCE and 200 BCE, however, that fact is under debate.
The ancient computer, which is not anything like a modern computer as we are familiar with, is thought to be a state-of-the-art astronomy device that was hundreds (perhaps thousands) of years ahead of its time. Alexander Jones, who is a historian of astronomy at the University of Toronto, Canada, agrees that the computer “was absolutely state of the art in astronomy at the time.” Jones is part of an international team of researchers who have been studying the Antikythera Mechanism since 2006.
According to Tech Times, about 14,000 characters are engraved on the ancient computer, and about 3,500 of those characters have been deciphered. Advanced imaging techniques were used to decipher the characters that had remained a mystery until now. Jones said that the characters were “like something on the radio with a lot of static” before being deciphered.
“It’s a lot of detail for us because it comes from a period from which we know very little about Greek astronomy and essentially nothing about the technology, except what we gather from here. So these very small texts are a very big thing for us.”
Over the last century, researchers thought the ancient mechanism was just an astronomy tool — if you set a date and time with a hand-driven crank on the device, positions of objects in the night sky could be read. The new analysis of the ancient computer, however, indicates that the mechanism was actually meant to predict future events of the land and people of Greece. The mechanism could have also been used as a teaching device that demonstrated timing of celestial bodies.
Gizmodo also reported that Jones talked about how the ancient computer was not used as a research tool during that time but as “something that you would use to teach about the cosmos and our place in the cosmos.”
“It’s like a textbook of astronomy as it was understood then, which connected the movements of the sky and the planets with the lives of the ancient Greeks and their environment.”
Other researchers confirmed Jones’ explanation, clarifying that the primary purpose of the ancient computer was astronomical, not astrological, and that it was like a textbook or tablet. Researchers also described the mechanism as a kind of “philosopher’s instructional device.” Team member Mike Edmunds, a professor of astrophysics at Cardiff University, talked about inscriptions on the device that referred to the color of a forthcoming eclipse that pointed to the predictive nature of the mechanism.
“We are not quite sure how to interpret this, to be fair, but it could hark back to suggestions that the color of an eclipse was some sort of omen or signal.”
Edmund continued by saying, “Certain colors might be better for what’s coming than other color. If that is so, and we are interpreting that correctly, this is the first instance we have in the mechanism of any real mention of astrology rather than astronomy.”
Researchers also believe the device was made on the island of Rhodes and that more devices like the ancient computer were most likely made as well. Researchers also believe that at least two people were involved in the construction of the device and that others were also involved in the manufacture of the gears.
The internet recently got in an uproar about the following depiction of a “laptop” in a Greek statue as seen in the tweet below. Could this have actually been a depiction of the use of a device similar to the Antikythera Mechanism?
Do you think this ancient computer is really a device to predict the future or a guide to the galaxy? Please share your thoughts below. Also, check out the following link to a Scientific American article for more information on this ancient computer.
[Photo by Petros Giannakouris/AP Images]