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Thread: The Antikythera Mechanism: Early Astronomical ‘Computer’ Found to Be Technically Complex

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    The Antikythera Mechanism: Early Astronomical ‘Computer’ Found to Be Technically Complex

    ATHENS - The size of a shoebox, a mysterious bronze device scooped out of a Roman-era shipwreck at the dawn of the 20th century has baffled scientists for years.

    Now a British researcher has stunningly established it as the world's oldest surviving astronomy computer.

    A team of Greek and British scientists probing the secrets of the Antikythera Mechanism has managed to decipher ancient Greek inscriptions unseen for over 2,000 years, members of the project say.

    "Part of the text on the machine, over 1,000 characters, had already been deciphered, but we have succeeded in doubling this total," said physician Yiannis Bitsakis, part of a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from universities in Athens, Salonika and Cardiff, the Athens National Archaeological Museum and the Hewlett-Packard company.

    "We have now deciphered 95% of the text," he said.

    Scooped out of a Roman shipwreck located in 1900 by sponge divers near the southern Greek island of Antikythera, and kept at the Athens National Archaeological Museum, the Mechanism contains over 30 bronze wheels and dials, and is covered in astronomical inscriptions.

    Probably operated by crank, it survives in three main pieces and some smaller fragments.

    "(The device) could calculate the position of certain stars, at least the Sun and Moon, and perhaps predict astronomical phenomena," said astrophysicist Xenophon Moussas of Athens University. "It was probably rare, if not unique," he added.

    The rarity of the Antikythera Mechanism precluded its removal from the museum, so an eight-tonne 'body scanner' had to be assembled on-site for the privately-funded project, which used three-dimensional tomography to expose the unseen inscriptions.

    The first appraisal of the Mechanism's purpose was put forward in the 1960s by British science historian Derek Price, but the scientists' latest discovery raises more questions.

    "It is a puzzle concerning astronomical and mathematical knowledge in antiquity," said Moussas. "The Mechanism could actually rewrite certain chapters in this area."

    "The challenge is to place this device into a scientific context, as it comes almost out of nowhere... and flies in the face of established theory that considers the ancient Greeks were lacking in applied technical knowledge," adds Bitsakis, also of Athens University.

    The researchers are also looking at the broader remains of the Roman ship -- believed to have sunk around 80 BC - for clues to the Mechanism's origin.

    One theory under examination is that the device was created in an academy founded by the ancient Stoic philosopher Poseidonios on the Greek island of Rhodes.

    The writings of 1st-century AD Roman orator and philosopher Cicero - himself a former student of Poseidonios - cite a device with similarities to the Mechanism.

    "Like Alexandria, Rhodes was a great centre of astronomy at the time," said Moussas. "The boat where the device was discovered could have been part of a convoy to Rome, bearing treasure looted from the island for the purpose of a triumph parade staged by Julius Caesar."

    The new findings are to be discussed at an international congress(www.antikythera-mechanism.gr) scheduled to be held in Athens in November.

    AFP
    06/06/2006 Source: AFP
    http://corporate.hosted.inet.co.za/news/story/2082053

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    :eek I just found this article myself, PP, on the Scotsman.



    It is already known that the Greeks invented astronomy but this makes it more concrete. They were, in fact, technologically highly advanced and were capable of designing a tunnel through a hill that began drilling at opposite ends and met up exactly in the centre.

    It's incredible and there will be more to come if people just find out where to look and stop believing the things said by envious rivals about any ancient civilization's capabilities.

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    Thumbs Up The Antikythera Mechanism: Early Astronomical ‘Computer’ Found to Be Technically Complex

    Early Astronomical ‘Computer’ Found to Be Technically Complex

    By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD


    A computer in antiquity would seem to be an anachronism, like Athena ordering takeout on her cellphone.

    But a century ago, pieces of a strange mechanism with bronze gears and dials were recovered from an ancient shipwreck off the coast of Greece. Historians of science concluded that this was an instrument that calculated and illustrated astronomical information, particularly phases of the Moon and planetary motions, in the second century B.C.

    The instrument, the Antikythera Mechanism, sometimes called the world’s first computer, has now been examined with the latest in high-resolution imaging systems and three-dimensional X-ray tomography. A team of British, Greek and American researchers deciphered inscriptions and reconstructed the gear functions, revealing “an unexpected degree of technical sophistication for the period,” it said.

    The researchers, led by the mathematician and filmmaker Tony Freeth and the astronomer Mike G. Edmunds, both of the University of Cardiff, Wales, are reporting their results today in the journal Nature.

    They said their findings showed that the inscriptions related to lunar-solar motions, and the gears were a representation of the irregularities of the Moon’s orbital course, as theorized by the astronomer Hipparchos. They established the date of the mechanism at 150-100 B.C.

    The Roman ship carrying the artifacts sank off the island of Antikythera about 65 B.C. Some evidence suggests it had sailed from Rhodes. The researchers said that Hipparchos, who lived on Rhodes, might have had a hand in designing the device.

    In another Nature article, a scholar not involved in the research, François Charette of the University of Munich museum, in Germany, said the new interpretation of the mechanism “is highly seductive and convincing in all of its details.” It is not the last word, he said, “but it does provide a new standard, and a wealth of fresh data, for future research.”

    Technology historians say the instrument is technically more complex than any known for at least a millennium afterward. Earlier examinations of the instrument, mainly in the 1970s by Derek J. de Solla Price, a Yale historian who died in 1983, led to similar findings, but they were generally disputed or ignored.

    The hand-operated mechanism, presumably used in preparing calendars for planting and harvesting and fixing religious festivals, had at least 30, possibly 37, hand-cut bronze gear-wheels, the researchers said. A pin-and-slot device connecting two gear-wheels induced variations in the representation of lunar motions according to the Hipparchos model of the Moon’s elliptical orbit around Earth.

    The numbers of teeth in the gears dictated the functions of the mechanism. The 53-tooth count of certain gears, the team said, was “powerful confirmation of our proposed model of Hipparchos’ lunar theory.” The detailed imaging revealed more than twice the inscriptions recognized earlier. Some of these appeared to relate to planetary and lunar motions. Perhaps, the team said, the mechanism also had gearings to predict the positions of known planets.
    Dr. Charette noted that more than 1,000 years elapsed before instruments of such complexity are known to have re-emerged. A few artifacts and some Arabic texts suggest that simpler geared calendrical devices had existed, particularly in Baghdad around A.D. 900.

    It seems clear, he said, that “much of the mind-boggling technological sophistication available in some parts of the Hellenistic and Greco-Roman world was simply not transmitted further.”

    “The gear-wheel, in this case,” he added, “had to be reinvented.”


    Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/30/science/30compute.html?th&emc=th


    More info:
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v444/n7119/abs/nature05357.html

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    2000 Year Old Antikythera Computer Lives Again

    The Antikythera "Moon Computer", a 2000 year old Greek machine for modeling and predicting the movements of the heavenly bodies, has risen again. Here it is:

    Antikythera


    The original 81 shards of the Antikythera were recovered from under the sea in 1902, and it has taken boffins since the 1950s to piece together the story, with the help of some very sophisticated imagining technology in recent years.

    Now, though, it has been rebuilt. As is almost always the way with these things, it was an amateur that cracked it. Michael Wright is a museum curator in London and has built a replica of the Antikythera, which works perfectly.

    What is startling about this device is the sophistication. No only does it track the movements of the moon and planets, but it can predict solar eclipses. Be sure to read Rob Beschizza's 2006 Gadget Lab article on the Antikythera. It truly is an amazing device.

    http://blog.wired.com/gadgets/2008/1...ear-old-a.html

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