Scientists unlock ‘Cosmos’ on Antikythera Mechanism, the world’s first computer

Scientists unlock ‘Cosmos’ on Antikythera Mechanism, the world’s first computer
March 13 (Agencies) | Publish Date: 3/13/2021 1:09:31 PM IST

 Scientists may have finally made a complete digital model for the Cosmos panel of a 2,000-year-old mechanical device called the Antikythera mechanism that’s believed to be the world’s first computer.

First discovered in a Roman-era shipwreck by Greek sponge divers in 1900, the fragments of a shoebox-size contraption, once filled with gears and used to predict the movements of heavenly bodies, has both baffled and amazed generations of researchers ever since. 

The discovered fragments made up just one-third of a larger device: a highly-sophisticated hand-powered gearbox capable of accurately predicting the motions of the five planets known to the ancient Greeks, as well as the sun, the phases of the moon and the solar and lunar eclipses- displaying them all relative to the timings of ancient events such as the Olympic Games.

Yet despite years of painstaking research and debate, scientists were never able to fully replicate the mechanism that drove the astonishing device, or the calculations used in its design, from the battered and corroded brass fragment discovered in the wreck.

But now researchers at University College London say they have fully recreated the design of the device, from the ancient calculations used to create it, and are now putting together their own contraption to see if their design works. 

“Our work reveals the Antikythera Mechanism as a beautiful conception, translated by superb engineering into a device of genius,” the researchers wrote March 12 in the open-access journal Scientific Reports. “It challenges all our preconceptions about the technological capabilities of the ancient Greeks.”

Why recreate Antikythera?

The researchers wanted to recreate the device because of all the mystery surrounding it, as a way to possibly get to the bottom of so many questions. In addition, nobody had ever created a model of the so-called Cosmos that reconciled with all of the physical evidence.

“The distance between this device’s complexity and others made at the same time is infinite,” 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.”

The intricate gears that made up the device’s mechanism are of a scale you could expect to find in a grandfather clock, but the only other gears discovered from around the same period are the much larger ones that went into things like ballistas, or large crossbows, and catapults. 

This sophistication brings up a lot of questions about the manufacturing process that could have made such a uniquely intricate contraption, as well as why it was discovered as the only known device of its kind on an ancient sunken ship off the island of Antikythera.

“What is it doing on that ship? We only found one-third; where are the other two [thirds]? Have they corroded away? Did it ever work?” Wojcik said. “These are questions that we can only really answer through experimental archaeology. It’s like answering how they built Stonehenge, let’s get 200 people with some rope and a big stone and try to pull it across Salisbury Plain. That’s a bit like what we’re trying to do here.”

(Live Science)


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