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The Antikythera Mechanism: Computer of Ancient Greeks

An Amazing Device To Calculate Future Dates

 
 

Scientists did not know how to understand the mechanism at first. They assumed due to its antiquity it could not be a computer. However, as its purpose was discovered, its genius was revealed. This provides us an analogy for what we are discovering in DNA -- when finally deciphered, we see superior genius, not chaos intelligently organizing itself by a freak accident.

 

 
 
The Wikipedia describes this bronze mechanism as a "calculator" or a "computer."[1] It explains the discoverers did not understand its workings until modern science caught up with it:
It was recovered in 1900–1901 from the Antikythera wreck, but its complexity and significance were not understood until decades later. It is now thought to have been built about 150–100 BC. Technological artifacts of similar complexity did not reappear until the 14th century, when mechanical astronomical clocks appeared in Europe.[1]

Professor Michael Edmunds of Cardiff University published an article in Nature (Nov. 30, 2006) and explained his astonishment:

"This device is just extraordinary, the only thing of its kind. The design is beautiful, the astronomy is exactly right. The way the mechanics are designed just makes your jaw drop. Whoever has done this has done it extremely carefully...in terms of historic and scarcity value, I have to regard this mechanism as being more valuable than the Mona Lisa...."(Ian Sample, “Mysteries of computer from 65BC are solved,” The Guardian (Thursday 30 November 2006).[2]
See also Ian Johnston (2006-11-30). "Device that let Greeks decode solar system," The Scotsman (11/30/06)."[3]

As the Guardian article explains:

Since its discovery, scientists have been trying to reconstruct the device, which is now known to be an astronomical calendar capable of tracking with remarkable precision the position of the sun, several heavenly bodies and the phases of the moon. Experts believe it to be the earliest-known device to use gear wheels and by far the most sophisticated object to be found from the ancient and medieval periods.[2]
The device was highly sophisticated in its results:
Detailed imaging of the mechanism suggests it dates back to 150-100 BC and had 37 gear wheels enabling it to follow the movements of the moon and the sun through the zodiac, predict eclipses and even recreate the irregular orbit of the moon.[2]
The discoveries in it were lost until the modern age. The Guardian continues:
Remarkably, scans showed the device uses a differential gear, which was previously believed to have been invented in the 16th century. The level of miniaturisation and complexity of its parts is comparable to that of 18th century clocks.[2]
Students have posted pictures, and explained with a video the details of this mechanism.[4] They explain:
Its elaborate design — aspects of which were not to be seen for at least the next thousand years – is particularly stunning. Some of the most intricate parts even rival those of 18th-century clockmakers![4]
In the July 31,2008 edition of Nature, a second paper appeared on the Antikythera Mechanism. A YouTube video explains this article.[5] Alexander Jones from the Institute of the Study of the Ancient World explains that the mechanism "would be remarkable even if it was a less clever thing than it is, because there is so little like it physically preserved or described in ancient books." (Id. at 0:20-0:42). Tony Freeth, part of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project, explains "If it had not been discovered when it was -- in 1901 -- no one could possibly believe it could exist because it is so sophisticated." (Id., at 0:42-0:62.) 

Freeth explains that in 1901, a Roman ship with Greek statues was recovered. All the material was taken to the National Archeological Museum in Athens. Among the 'junk' found was a small 30 cm high clump of material which Freeth explains was "completely disregarded at the time." (Id., at 1:59.) Freeth mentions there was discovered in the 1950s that this device had "epicycling geering, that is to say gears that move with their axis moving on other gears, a completely astonishing revelation for ancient Greece." Id.

The computer animation of the gears at 6:10 et seq. of this video[5] is indeed astonishing. See also You Tube by Helenic Ministry of Antiquities (2011) at this link.

The second video on You Tube from 2008, from mfreeth.com, is a presentation by the team studying the Antikythera Mechanism.[6] This video mentions that the calendar inscribed on the device matches one used at Syracuse, on the island of Sicily, then part of the Greek world. It was the hometown of Archimedes, a great scientist of his day. It is thought perhaps that his workhouse a hundred years after his death carried on his work, and that this mechanism is an example.

This second video explains they also discovered the machine is an "eclipse prediction machine." Id., at 3:35. At that juncture of the video, one truly sees the genius of the device,and the function of multiple gears. Different dials on the face of the mechanism turned 180 degrees at a much longer period, such as 54 years, while at a different rate for other predicted events on the much larger dials. "We now know the function of this little dial is," Freeth explains. Id., at 4:39. Hence, piece by piece they figured out what the details perform and their purpose. Another scientist responds "Lovely," and Freeth exclaims "it is beautiful, isn't it?"

Freeth then says it is a true "mechanical calculating machine." (Id., at 6:50). It "does it in a beautiful and brilliant way." (Id., at 6:55.) Price when he first interpreted it had a "complicated model doing simple things," but now scientists demonstrate, Freeth says, that the Antikythera Mechanism is a "complicated model doing complicated and extremely sophisticated things in a design which is pure genius.Id., at 7:05.

The sophistication leads some to suspect an extraterritorial explanation, but Edmunds aptly answers this concern. As one article notes:
Mr Edmunds said the researchers were prepared for an onslaught of conspiracy theories. "There's no indication that the device is anything we wouldn't expect of the Greeks or something that would require an extra-terrestrial explanation."[7]
To appreciate the brilliance of this device, one must see the You Tube video by a science museum curator from London, Michael Wright, who recreated the mechanism.[8] It is fully functional, and incorporates all the main elements of the Antikythera Mechanism. A turn of a knob on a box side turns all the gears simultaneously which in turn give three read-outs on different clock faces representing the moon cycle, the four year Olympic Games cycle, and predictions of positions of the five visible planets of that era.

Application

So when we find similar amazing and stunning aspects to DNA, existent in the very first life to the last, how can we suggest we do not see an ingenious design that we know instinctively could never be produced by an accident from chaos? The proverb "only a fool says there is no God" is premised on proper logic and indubitable evidence such as DNA.

 

References

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antikythera_mechanism
  2. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2006/nov/30/uknews
  3. http://news.scotsman.com/international.cfm?id=1774262006
  4. http://students.egfi-k12.org/did-the-ancient-greeks-use-computers/
  5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DiQSHiAYt98  
  6. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znM0-arQvHc&
  7. http://www.cdnn.info/news/science/sc060606.html
  8. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eUibFQKJqI