This is the Antikythera Mechanism, and it’s the oldest computer on Earth, discovered over a century ago in a shipwreck off Crete, and built in the 2nd century BC. We have only now learned about what it is, what it’s for, and what it does through high-resolution computer imagery and three-dimensional X-ray tomography. Reports earlier this year confirmed that it was an astronomical calendar; now we know the full capacities of this machine, perhaps the most sophisticated gear-based mechanism in human history before 18th-century clockworks.
The New York Times reports:
After a closer examination of the Antikythera Mechanism, a surviving marvel of ancient Greek technology, scientists have found that the device not only predicted solar eclipses but also organized the calendar in the four-year cycles of the Olympiad, forerunner of the modern Olympic Games.
Archimedes, who lived in Syracuse and died in 212 B.C., invented a planetarium calculating motions of the Moon and the known planets and wrote a lost manuscript on astronomical mechanisms. Some evidence had previously linked the complex device of gears and dials to the island of Rhodes and the astronomer Hipparchos, who had made a study of irregularities in the Moon’s orbital course.
The new findings, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, also suggested that the mechanism’s concept originated in the colonies of Corinth, possibly Syracuse, in Sicily. The scientists said this implied a likely connection with the great Archimedes.
Read more from the Times here.