Monday, August 04, 2008
The Antikythera Mechanism gets a new face
The Antikythera Mechanism is an ancient calculator used to calculate astronomical positions. In 1900 the 2,000-year-old device was discovered a shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera, which is where the device gets its name. An article in Nature explains that new X-ray technology has found that the Antikythera Mechanism was far more advanced than previously thought. Jo Marchant, Nature's news editor, writes, "No earlier geared mechanism of any sort has ever been found. Nothing close to its technological sophistication appears again for well over a millennium, when astronomical clocks appear in medieval Europe. It stands as a strange exception, stripped of context, of ancestry, of descendants."
A new paper from the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project (AMRP) is published in the prestige science journal Nature on July 31st 2008. It reveals surprising results on the back dials of the Antikythera Mechanism - including a dial dedicated to the four-year Olympiad Cycle of athletic games in ancient Greece.
The research team has also deciphered all the months on the Mechanism’s 19-year calendar, revealing month names that are of Corinthian origin, probably from a Corinthian colony of the western Hellenic world - overturning the previous idea that the Mechanism was from the eastern part of the Mediterranean. For the first time we have direct evidence of its cultural origins.
Additional research has also transformed our understanding of the Mechanism’s sophisticated eclipse prediction dials. These results have extended the previous work of the AMRP on the complex structure of the Mechanism’s gears and dials and have added new and intriguing cultural and social dimensions.