New interpretations of the Antikythera Mechanism published in Nature this week reveal that it had a dial recording the dates of the ancient Olympiads, and could also be used to predict eclipses. The 2,000-year-old box of intricate gearwork, recovered from the Mediterranean Sea in 1901 by Greek sponge divers, provides glimpses of the astronomical and engineering prowess of the Hellenic world.
Past research has shown that the Antikythera Mechanism is a complex ancient Greek astronomical calculator that used an intricate bronze gear mechanism to rotate dials on both the front and the back.
New research by Tony Freeth from the UK-based Antikythera Mechanism Project, and a team of international colleagues, revealed more text on the dials using specialized x-ray techniques. This text identifies 12 calendar month names originating from Corinth, suggesting a heritage that may extend back to Archimedes. It also suggests that this calendar was in widespread use by Greeks as early as 100 BC.
These findings reveal the sophisticated functions of this landmark instrument in the history of technology and show that Antiythera Mechanism was not simply an instrument of abstract science but linked important human events with celestial cycles.
- (News p561, doi: 10.1038/454561a)
- Calendars with Olympiad display and eclipse prediction on the Antikythera Mechanism (Letter p614, doi: 10.1038/nature07130)
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