The Antikythera Mechanism Explained


/ published 4 years ago

The Antikythera Mechanism Explained

Scientists have called the Antikythera Mechanism the “Ancient Greek Computer”, and they might be right. The mechanism, which has spurred some conspiracy theories that it has alien origin, was discovered in 1901, and is believed to date back to the first century before Christ.

Back in the days of Ancient Greece, the mechanism was used to predict astronomical positions, calendar, eclipses, Olympics, and the cycles of the Olympic Games.

When it was discovered in 1901, the Antikythera mechanism was placed in a wooden box with dimensions of 340mm x 180mm x 90mm. The clockwork mechanism was compost of 30 bronze gears. Nowadays, the mechanism is divided into 82 known fragments. Inscriptions are found on almost every fragment, but seven are the ones that contain almost all of the mechanism way of work. The largest gear is called Fragment A, and has 223 teeth with a diameter of 140mm.

The artifact was recovered from a shipwreck close to the Greek island of Antikythera, therefore the name. Before we go into the mechanism, we must point that clockwork mechanisms are well known to be used in Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt, China and India. And before clockwork mechanisms, people in India used gears to drive doors and lift water. One of the ancient philosophers that described the mechanisms we know today was Heron, who set the basic for pneumatics, hydraulics, and mechanics.

How the Antikythera Mechanism Works?

For the past several years, scientists have been trying to explain how the mechanism works. The alien conspiracy theory has been debunked thanks to the work of the scientific world. Nowadays, we know what the mechanism was used for. However, some of the fine details are debatable. Be as it is, let’s take a look at how the mechanism works.

For starters, when the mechanism was discovered, it was believed to be sophisticated, if not the most sophisticated of its time. There haven’t been any modifications after the manufacture of the mechanism. Some of the scientists that were working on the debunking believe that there were at least 10 prototypes before the original mechanism was made.

Let’s start from the era it comes from. According to some techniques used, the mechanism shows “am”, which is a term that now scientists believe is 2,000 years old. The carbon dating on the ship, where the mechanism was found place the artifact in an era 200 BC. However, style of the amphora jars place it in an era between 86 BC and 60 BC.

Now, onto the mechanism. According to scientists, the mechanism was actually driven by a handle, which in essence turned the linked system of 30 gear wheels. Nowadays, thanks to some of the modern techniques, scientists were able to count the teeth on the wheels. Thanks to figuring that out, scientists could explain the gear ratios and what they were used for computing.

The position of the gears shows the position of the planets, the sun, and the moon as they were moving through the zodiac. Inside the gears, there is an extendable arm with a pin, which is then followed by a spiral groove. There, you’ll see a small sphere in two colors, black and white. This sphere was used to show the phase of the moon.

One of the more impressive discoveries is that the Antikythera mechanism could predict solar and lunar eclipses. Known as the Saros cycle, lunar eclipse happens 223 full moons later. And as we mentioned previously, the mechanism has 223 teeth, which is what they were used for. The results show that Ancient Greeks had a wide understanding of mechanism and mathematics, as it required complex reasoning and technology to implement those practices into the mechanism.

But the most important aspect of the Antikythera mechanism is that it shows the advanced reasoning and scientific legacy of the Greeks. Many scientists nowadays believe that if the Romans did not take charge, and Ancient Greece survived a little longer, we would have been far in advance in terms of technology. The modern clock, which is the Antikythera mechanism shows that Greeks came very close to the technology we use nowadays.  For more on the gears of the mechanism, check the Wikipedia explanation.

What it was Made from?

The Antikythera mechanism has the size of a mantel clock. Because of the wood found on the fragments, scientists believe that the clock was housed in a wooden case. The case had a large circular face. On the side, Ancient Greeks placed a handle to serve for winding the clock, backward or forward.

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