Humanity’s First ‘Computer’ Was Found in Greek Shipwreck

It was exactly 116 years ago — 17 May 1902 — when Spirydon Stais visited a museum that housed treasures from an ancient shipwreck.

Among them was a round, green-rusted piece of metal which caught his eye as it looked like nothing else from the bottom of the sea surrounding the Greek island of Antikythera.

The shipwreck had been accidentally discovered by local fishermen. One of them had emerged from the water clutching a bronze arm — the first find from the Antikythera wreckage.

Stais, a Greek politician, was the man who organized the ancient ship’s underwater excavation. The findings were plentiful and precious. But the strange object that stood out from the coins, pottery and sculptures was the most important of all.

It was what was later to be known as the Antikythera Mechanism, dubbed by scientists and archaeologists as the world’s first ‘computer’.

The mechanism was buried at the bottom of the sea for about 2,100 years. It consisted of bronze gears and metallic mechanical parts which were rusty and decayed.

For decades, archaeologists and scientists tried to find out what the complex mechanism was. They estimated that it was built between 200 and 70 BC. In recent decades, they used X-rays and CT scans to look inside the Antikythera Mechanism and reconstruct it.

Scientists discovered that the device contained an elaborate collection of some 30 interlocking, spinning gears that controlled dials tracking the sun, the moon, eclipses, planets and the schedule for the Olympics.

A hand crank span the gears which moved the hands on the dials. This way, the user could predict eclipses and the passage of celestial bodies through the sky.

In 2015, Kyriakos Efstathiou, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and head of the group that studied the Antikythera Mechanism said:

“All of our research has shown that our ancestors used their deep knowledge of astronomy and technology to construct such mechanisms and based only on this conclusion, the history of technology should be re-written because it sets its start many centuries back.”

The professor further explained that the Antikythera Mechanism is undoubtedly the first machine of antiquity which can be classified by the scientific term for a computer according to which “it is a machine with an entry where we can import data and this machine can bring and create results based on a scientific mathematical scale.

“Never before did we have such a device.”

“We do not simply refer to a computer but to a super-computer,” Efstathiou underlined.

In 2016 an inscription on the device was revealed, something like a label or a user’s manual. It included a discussion of the colors of eclipses, details used at the time in making astrological predictions.