Some of you may be surprised to learn that computing technology may not be as new as most of us believe. The need and capacity to compute math and information have existed for quite some time. In fact, in May of 1902 Valerios Stais, a Greek Archeologist stumbled upon a corroded piece of metal that would turn out to be what many believe the first computer. This piece of metal has become known to the science world as the Antikythera Mechanism.
While this ancient computer does not compare to the modern technology we have in our pockets and backpacks today, it is still a marvel in the minds of those who study antiquity. This rusty old piece of metal has literally opened a universe of knowledge that was not available before its discovery.
The Antikythera Mechanism, in speculation, is the world’s first analogical computer. It is important to understand that this theory is sole speculative because no one knows what else is out there waiting to be discovered. It is better to say that the Antikythera Mechanism is the oldest known analogical computer in the world — something that could change in the blink of an eye.
The computing mechanisms are believed to have been used by ancient Greeks to chart the sun’s movement. Additionally, it was also used to measure the relationships between the moon and planets, as well as predict solar and lunar eclipses. Believe it or not, it was supposedly used to count down to the scheduling of the next Olympic games.
Measuring and monitoring terrestrial bodies was not the only thing that this piece of equipment was capable of doing. It was also used to compute mathematical equations with remarkable accuracy. It could divide, multiply, add, and subtract.
While the Antikythera Mechanism is associated with antiquity, it is far from lacking sophistication. The mechanism was a compilation of more than 30 working gears made from bronze. The case in which the gears were housed was made of a combination of wood and bronze.
The design of this mechanism differs drastically from the computers of the 20th and 21st centuries, but the functionality is quite remarkable considering how long ago this mechanism was used and the wide diversity associated with its use.
While fortune-telling is something that has grown increasingly less common over the years, at least in a traditional sense, it was a huge part of ancient times. A study that was conducted on the mechanism in 2016 suggested that the machine was also used to tell fortunes. When viewing the Antikythera Mechanism, the thing that sticks out the most is the size of it. With its wide range of functionality, you would think that it would have been a lot larger than it is. It sort of resembles a large shoe box. It is amazing that something so small could accomplish so much that far back in time.
In 1902, Valerios Stais was sifting through artifacts that were a part of a wrecked Roman cargo ship near Antikythera. During his routine activities, he notices some bronze and decided to examine what he was seeing and this is how the mechanisms were discovered. The majority of researchers who have been involved in studying this piece believe that it was likely built on the island of Rhode, not to be confused with Rhode Island. The piece is not likely unique. Although this piece is the only one ever to be discovered in modern times, researchers are almost certain that it is not the only one of its kind. It was like a common tool of its time. There is also a great deal of ancient literature that refers to devices similar to this piece — indicating that they were quite common.
When it comes to the complexity of the device, researchers all agree that it was way ahead of its time. Some of the components have a sophistication that is comparable to many 18th century clocks. That is quite advanced, to say the least. It is believed that at some point the technology was lost because it would have been unrivaled for another millennium.
For those who want to get an up-close look at it, you will have to take a plane to Athens, Greece and visit the National Archeological Museum. If you are into things that provide context to a different time, it might be worth the trip, plus there is a lot more to do in Greece than visit the museum.
The Antikythera Mechanism, named for the area in Greece where it was discovered, is a mystery in the sense of the genius it required to design such a functional and accurate mechanism. It is not quite the mystery that the pyramids are, but it definitely will leave the average person scratching their head.
A great deal of the decoding done by a scientist who was given the responsibility of studying and understanding this device came in a slow painstaking process. In fact, it was years before scientists were able to decipher the mechanisms and determine the uses of the device — literally decades. The sound learned that by holding the mechanism in your hands, you could literally track the movement of the sun, the planets, and the moon. What was even more impressive for those decoders was the level of accuracy at which this could be done.
What is significantly notable is that the sophistication of the mechanism was so elaborate that many scientists completely ignored the piece because they could not understand its significance. Fortunately, some of the greatest fringe writers of that era, including Erich von Daniken, kept the spotlight on the piece. Daniken wrote that the mechanism came from an alien spaceship and while scientists were not buying the story, they did become more intrigued by the stories this piece could tell.
Very similar in size and appearance to a mantel clock, this ancient piece of history gave the modern world a peek into the minds of ancient genius who were far ahead of their generation. Many scientists believe that there is still a great deal to be learned from this mechanism, and others are hoping that even more ancient artifacts will be uncovered in coming years to shed even more light on this particular time in history.