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Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Antikythera Computer

   The Antikythera mechanism is just about the most astonishing historical artifact there is.

Professor Michael Edmunds of Cardiff University, who led a 2006 study of the mechanism, said:
"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."

  I would, on balance, consider that comparisonan understated.

   Though people did originally suspect that this device was either a hoax or a much later device which had accidentally been dropped in the wreck it was found in much later, so far beyond any technology known to exist at the time was it.. There is now no possible doubt from the detail, the language used and how some of the numbering used fits contemprary astronmy, that it is genuine.

   It is a mechanical computer, capable of .forecasting the placing of the planets and eclipses for decades in advance. No mechanism clearly more advanced than it existed until John Harrison made the chronometers that could be used to determine longitude in the late 18th century.

   The antikythera computer that has been found was made about 100BC in Corinth or one of its colonies in the first century BC. It was clearly a well developed mechanism and must have had less sophisticated predecessors. My guess is that the original either came from Archimedes, who lived in Corinth's colony of Syracuse, or somebody earlier who taught him.

   BBC 4 regularly broadcast a wonderful programme about the way the mechanism was interpreted and eventually reverse engineered. One gets a feeling of real scientists, both today and in 100 BC stretching the limits of human invention, not for money but for the satisfaction of doing it.

  BBC 4 The 2,000 Year old Computer
reverse engineering

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