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The year was 1900 and a group of sponge divers took shelter from a storm occurring on the Mediterranean. The weather eventually became calm, and they dove for sponges near the Greek island of Antikythera. The sponge divers discovered a shipwreck that contained many Greek treasures. This led to a major underwater archeological operation. Greek navy gunboats were in place to discourage looters. By the next year, divers began retrieving amazing ancient Greek artifacts such as jewelry, bronze sculptures, glassware, and more. They also retrieved three flat pieces of corroded bronze. This is what would later become known as one of the most important objects of ancient technology ever recovered. It was called the Antikythera Mechanism.
Months after the recovery of the object it split apart. There were many small gear wheels inside that were approximately the size of coins. When researchers saw it, they were stunned. Nobody had ever believed that such precise gear wheels would have been created and used in ancient Greece. Only a third of the original Antikythera Mechanism is still around.
The first real understanding of the Antikythera Mechanism came in 1905 from a German philologist named Albert Rehm. He read the inscriptions on the mechanism. They were about the rising and setting of the stars as witnessed from Earth. He also discovered they accurately described astronomical cycles. He felt the five planets known in the ancient world were displayed in the front of the mechanism. These would be Saturn, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Mars.
Derek de Solla Price
He was a British physicist who started to study the Antikythera Mechanism fifty years after Albert Rehm. He is the author of a well-received paper about it called “Gears from Greeks.” Price made progress by taking X-rays of the Mechanism’s fragments. This made it possible for him to identify each surviving gear and fragment. The gears were not complete, so he was able to accurately measure the teeth in each one. His work led to the discovery that the mechanism could predict the 19-year cycle of the moon. He used the inscriptions on the Antikythera Mechanism and its gearing to prove it.
Antikythera Research Team
Since its discovery, many scholars have carefully studied the elements of the Antikythera Mechanism to determine its purpose. The University of College London (UCL) created the Antikythera Research Team. In addition to the original team members, a materials scientist and imaging specialist became part of the group. An archaeometallurgist, as well as a horologist, and physicist joined the team.
In 2005, fragments from the mechanism were given a CT scan. This revealed there was text on it that had not previously been read. The UCL team took the text and combined it with the theories of Greek math philosopher Parmenides and used it as a guide. They then carefully arranged the mechanism's gears. This resulted in it correctly displaying precise information concerning the cycles of the planets. The UCL team believes the Antikythera Mechanism was created by a genius. It was able to combine the mathematics of Plato's Academy with Babylonian astronomy and Greek astronomical theories. A recreation model of the Antikythera Mechanism was completed in 2006.
To accomplish the task of recreating the Antikythera Mechanism, the UCL team focused their attention on two numbers located on the front of it. They were 442 and 462. This is the number of years Saturn and Venus require to complete one cycle across the sky. How the inventors of the Antikythera Mechanism knew this is an absolute mystery.
The original Antikythera Mechanism was not discovered in one piece. There have been over 81 cataloged fragments. They are currently located at the National Archeological Museum in Athens, Greece. Research has identified many of the pieces. Their functions have been determined. It has a calendar that describes a 360-day year divided into 12 months of 30 days each. The Antikythera Mechanism also has a five-day extra period. This matches the Greek-Egyptian calendar. It has planetary dials that list the five planets known at the time. These dials show planetary cycles.
The Antikythera Mechanism has a zodiac scale that possesses a 360-degree dial. It is divided into the 12 signs of the zodiac and separated by a slow and fast zone. Researchers believe these speed zones could refer to the different speeds associated with the sun. The dials contain seven pointers. The sun pointer displays the date of a calendar scale. It also shows the position of the sun in the sky as well as the zodiac scale. The sun pointer makes a complete turn for each year. The pointer associated with the moon shows its position in the sky on the zodiac scale. There is a black-and-white ball below the moon pointer. It represents the moon's phases. The Antikythera Mechanism appears to have been modeled after the moon's elliptical orbit around the Earth. There is also a handle and researchers believe it may have been used to move the pointers.
Once the construction of a working model of the Antikythera Mechanism was completed, researchers realized it could possibly be Babylonian. It would make the device centuries older than was previously believed. Researchers also realized the Babylonians could have played a significant role in the advancements of Greek astronomy. This is still a subject that is debated.
It appears the Antikythera Mechanism could have been used to show the four-year cycle of the ancient Greek Olympic Games. There are inscriptions on the mechanism with names associated with the Olympiad cycle of games. Near a small dial in the mechanism was the word 'NEMA.' The Neaman games were the pinnacle of the Olympiad cycle. Other words inscribed on the Antikythera Mechanism were 'OLYMPIA' referring to the Olympic Games. 'PYTHIA' refers to the Olympic games at Delphi. 'ISTJMIA' refers to the Olympic games at Corinth.
When the Antikythera Mechanism was discovered, it was viewed as a lump of corroded bronze. What it did and the reason it was created confused researchers for decades. It was eventually established that the Antikythera Mechanism contained precision gear wheels, and it could perform tasks that should not have existed in the ancient Greek world. How and why, it was made as well as all of its capabilities remain a mystery.
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