Scientists create digital model of 'the World's Oldest Computer,' the Antikythera Mechanism

Written on 03/15/2021
SCIENCE


By Ciarán Mather

A team of scientists have revealed that they have created a digital model of a 2,000-year-old 'computer' that was manufactured in the Hellenistic period of Ancient Greece.

First discovered in 1900 by Greek sponge divers, the fragments made up just one-third of a larger device, dubbed The Antikythera Mechanism, which is hand-powered and was able to predict the movement of the five (known at that time) planets, the phases of the moon and even solar and lunar eclipse.

The study's co-author, Adam Wojcik, a materials scientist at UCL, told Live Science: 'Frankly, there is nothing like it that has ever been found. It's out of this world.'

He added that the device may have been used to help organise The Olympic Games, and that it may possibly also have links to the Ancient Greek inventor and mathematician, Archimedes.

The Mechanism previously baffled scientists, especially the illusive mystery that an accurate calculator could be made in such an early period of human history, but after transcribing it digitally, a research team at University College London (UCL) believe they may have cracked the case.

Using the ancient calculations used to create it, the UCL team are now putting together their own computerised version of The Mechanism to see if their design works.

Their model recreates each gear and rotating dial to show how the planets, the sun and the moon move across the Zodiac (the ancient map of the stars), on the front face, as well as the phases of the moon and eclipses on the back. 

The team was assisted in their venture by Michael Wright, a former curator at the Science Museum in London, who had previously constructed a working replica of The Antikythera Mechanism.

Ancient Greece is notable for its advanced knowledge of maths and physics: in fact, the mathematician Eratosthenes managed to prove that the Earth was round sometime around 500 BC, and all with just a stick driven into the ground!

It just goes to show that sometimes the most incredible discoveries can be made by using simple apparatus, as well as showing how little we actually know about the technology available in our past.

The findings made by the UCL team have since been published in the open-access journal Scientific Reports.