Antikythera Mechanism More Ancient Than Believed

mixanismos-antikithirwn-a-708The Antikythera mechanism, the ancient clock like device that tracked the cycles of the solar system, is more ancient than it has been estimated so far, according to a new study.

The mechanism, also called the world’s oldest computer by certain scientists, was discovered inside an ancient shipwreck by Greek sponge divers in 1900-1901. After numerous studies, it was estimated to have been constructed between 150 B.C. and 100 B.C. A new study places it at 205 B.C., seven years after the death of Archimedes.

The Antikythera shipwreck in Greece is believed to have happened between 85 B.C. and 60 B.C. History of science professor Christian Carman and physics professor James Evans placed it at 205 B.C. after studying the mechanism and Babylonian records of eclipses.

According to the two researchers, ancient Greeks were able to predict eclipses and construct a complex machine earlier than believed. The eclipse predictions were not based on trigonometry but on Babylonian arithmetical systems that were borrowed by the Greeks.

“Evans and Carman arrived at the 205 B.C. date using a method of elimination that they devised. Beginning with the hundreds of ways that the Antikythera’s eclipse patterns could fit Babylonian records (as reconstructed by John Steele, Brown University) the team used their system to eliminate dates successively, until they had a single possibility,” according to a news story published on the Puget Sound University website where Evans teaches.

The researchers used lunar and solar anomalies and other astronomical phenomena in their calculations. They also used a story told by Cicero, that a similar device was carried back to Rome by general Marcellus after the pillage of Syracuse and the death of Archimedes in 212 B.C. If indeed the Antikythera mechanism used an eclipse predictor that worked for a cycle starting at 205 B.C., then its origin is most likely close to the lifetime of Archimedes.