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Did The Ancient Greeks Make A Computer?
An Article | 1977 | Lionel Casson

Posted on 11/01/2003 9:21:03 AM PST by Holly_P

....At the western entrance to the Aegean Sea, midway between the islands of Crete and Kythera, rises little Antikythera. It was off that island in 1900 that a sponge diver found, on the bottom, the wreck of an ancient ship loaded with statues, amphorae and other objects. ....This wreck was the first great under water find of modern archaeology. It yielded not only a rich hoard of art treasures but an astonishingly sophisticated scientific instrument. But while the marble and bronze statues and the pottery were recognized at once as the work of Greek artisans around the time of Christ, the bronze instrument, encrusted with calcareous deposits lay ignored. As it gradually dried, the ancient wood casing and internal parts cracked and split into four flat fragments, the inner sides of which revealed parts of geared wheels together with some barely legible inscriptions. Thereafter, as cleaning exposed more gears and inscriptions, scholars affirmed that the device was a navagational tool, an astrolabe, used to determine the altitude of the sun and other celestial bodies. This identification was remarkable enough, considering that only simple implements had previously turned up from the Hellenistic period: yet even so it was, more and more obviously inadequate for so complex assembly. ....What, then, could it be, this mysterious Antikythera mechanism? ....In 1951, an American historian of science, Professor Derek de Solla Price of Yale, became intrigued by the riddle. While other scholars established that the wrecked ship, almost certainly bound for Italy with wares from Asia Minor and the Greek islands, had floundered in about 78 B.C., Price studied the device himself. At last, in 1959, he announced in print that the mechanism was, as he called it in his article, "An Ancient Greek Computer"; one that indicated by means of dials and pointers, the motions of the sun and moon past, present and future and synchronously, the moon's phases. ....A computer- in the first century B.C.? The claim excited much skepticism and one retired professor insisted that the device had to be a modern orrery- of the kind he had seen as a child used to demonstrate the Copernican system- which had somehow intruded on the wreck. (He was, in fact, not far off on it's function but totally off on its date.) Certain popular writers, by contrast, eagerly accepted the identification of the device as a computer- but asserted it could only have been made by extraterrestrials from a technologically superior civilization. ....Unfazed by any of this, Price continued to puzzle out the numerous small but critical problems the mechanism presented, attemting to complete computing the number of teeth on the gear wheels (none more than partially visible) and determining as best he could, which gears meshed with which others. The work went slowly until 1971, when learning that gamma-radiography could see through solid matter, Price persuaded the Greek authorities to let his collaborator, Dr. Karakalos take gammaradiographs of the fragments. These revealed so much detail, so clearly, that after analyzing them the two men could confidently relate the gear ratios to known astronomical and calendrical data and in 1974, Price submitted his definitive findings to the American Philosophical Society. ....Activated by hand, the Antikythera mechanism consists of a train of more than thirty gears of greatly varied sizes meshing in parallel planes but its most spectacular feature is a differential gear permitting two shafts to rotate at different speeds, like the one that allows the rear wheels of a modern car to turn at different rates on a curve. ....There is no mention of the Antikythera device in ancient literature but a similar mechanism was described by Cicero and later by Ovid and others: this was an ingenious planetarium, simulating the movements of the sun, the moon and the five planets, that had been devised in the third century B.C. by Archimedes. Cicero, incidentally, was on Rhodes between 79 and 77 B.C., just as the Antikythera mechanism was presumably lost at sea; while there he saw a geared planetarium that may have been built by Posidonios, a renowned geographer (among other things) who lectured in Rhodes. ....The Antikythera device derives then, from Archimedes, either by a gradual, unrecorded evolution or by the massive innovation of some unknown genius, perhaps of the school of Posidonios. If only for his use of the differential gear, "one of the greatest basic mechanical inventions of all time," its maker should, says Price, "be accorded the highest honors."


TOPICS: Culture/Society
KEYWORDS: ancientnavigation; antikythera; antikytheramechanism; archaeology; computers; economic; ggg; godsgravesglyphs; greece; greek; history; lionelcasson; machine; mechanics; mechanism; windows
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To: Holly_P
I see you've got the

paragraph and
line breaks down ...

Now all you need is an occasional Bold or italic, or if you're feeling really fancy go for the Bold Italics .. Next week ... Colors, font changes, and graphics ... lol

41 posted on 11/01/2003 10:34:16 AM PST by BlueNgold (Feed the Tree .....)
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To: blam
...Thanks for the very interesting link. I considered pasting it here but don't want to take up a lot of space. It is well worth reading though.
42 posted on 11/01/2003 10:43:34 AM PST by Holly_P (.Proud member of F.R. for one day.)
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To: blam
You do know why it was on the bottom of sea, don't you?
that was the ancient cure for viruses.

Besides the MuSigma people and the pomegranate people were always warring over which had the better and faster computer

Seriously, this was rather more like a mechanical calculator than a computer.
43 posted on 11/01/2003 10:47:04 AM PST by fqued ("He who doens't reboot at least once a day is not using the capacity of his computer.")
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To: Holly_P
Holly,

Okay, now that you've been razzed for a while,
check out:

Reference HTML Cheatsheet:

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/757944/posts?page=1,50

Secondly: that (.) was really a tagline that you inadvertently created. Note after a posters screenname there often appears some witty or deep comment in parentheses. You too can do that by filling in the tag line space after printing a reply. It's right there on the posting page after the "your reply" section.
44 posted on 11/01/2003 10:51:44 AM PST by fqued ("He who doesn't reboot at least once a day is not using the capacity of his computer.")
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To: blam
From the link in message #5 and from your reply, I can't seem to get it as to whether the Greek mechanism and the much later "Islamic calendar" Were independant inventions.
It would seem so to me since the Islamic versions were "less sophisticated" (from the link in message #5)Were it "borrowed" from the Greeks it would follow that it would be more sophisticated, improvements having been made with the passage of time.
45 posted on 11/01/2003 10:56:09 AM PST by Holly_P (I'm learning. slowly but surely.)
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To: Holly_P; blam; *Gods, Graves, Glyphs; Alas Babylon!; annyokie; bd476; BiffWondercat; ...
Gods, Graves, Glyphs
List for articles regarding early civilizations , life of all forms, - dinosaurs - etc.

Let me know if you wish to be added or removed from this ping list.

For real time political chat - Radio Free Republic chat room

46 posted on 11/01/2003 10:59:36 AM PST by farmfriend ( Isaiah 55:10,11)
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To: Holly_P

47 posted on 11/01/2003 11:01:58 AM PST by Petronski (Living life in a minor key.)
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To: Petronski
That's what my Grampa is getting me for Christmas. I don't think he knows it yet though.
48 posted on 11/01/2003 11:06:21 AM PST by Holly_P (Life is like.............Life.)
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To: farmfriend
Yes, please do add me to your list. Thank you.
49 posted on 11/01/2003 11:07:44 AM PST by Holly_P
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To: Holly_P
Consider yourself added. If you ever change your mind, just let me know.
50 posted on 11/01/2003 11:09:17 AM PST by farmfriend ( Isaiah 55:10,11)
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To: Holly_P
...My first effort. I thought it was fascinating. probably dull for everyone else especially with no paragraph breaks.

I thought it was fascinating. To me it is plausible that a lot of things have been invented more than once, so why not an ancient Greek navigational device? Our history has been pretty chaotic and violent -- there is probably a lot of knowledge that has been discovered and lost and rediscovered centuries later. If any ancient person could have had an understanding of the motion of the planets approaching that of Copernicus, it would have to have been some ancient Greek. The ancient people did seem to be able to navigate better than one might think -- maybe they knew more than we give them credit for.

51 posted on 11/01/2003 11:19:20 AM PST by Wilhelm Tell (Lurking since 1997!)
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To: Holly_P
What none of these articles discussed is the craftsmanship that went into this device.

By that I mean, for instance, HOW were the teeth cut? To index a device so that each tooth was identically cut implies a high degree of manufacturing sophistication. Filing each tooth by hand, no matter how carefully done, would have had enough variation to end up binding the device at the first turn.

Now times that by 30 gears of varying sizes and the marvel becomes more apparent. Whether the device was a "computer" or a calculator, it seems to me the hidden wonder is where did the smarts and technology come from to make the equipment to make this tool?

I'm even allowing here that the gear teeth were shaped like shark's teeth and not the squared off ones we are used to today. It they have the latter, which are far harder to fabricate, we have a really MAJOR puzzle on our hands.
52 posted on 11/01/2003 11:23:21 AM PST by Oatka
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To: Holly_P
Was their blue screen of death that nice sort of Royal greek blue?
53 posted on 11/01/2003 11:26:10 AM PST by Chancellor Palpatine (Dr. Hasslein was the only human character who had any sense in the "Apes" series)
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To: Holly_P
LOL That was my very first computer. It came with 16k RAM and a cassette storage drive. I was 15 years old. I figure that's primitive enough to provide a fair comparison to this ancient Greek computer.

;O)
54 posted on 11/01/2003 11:26:48 AM PST by Petronski (Living life in a minor key.)
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To: Wilhelm Tell; Holly_P
"To me it is plausible that a lot of things have been invented more than once, so why not an ancient Greek navigational device?"

Imagine what we could have learned if the library at Alexanderia hadn't burned down.

55 posted on 11/01/2003 11:27:25 AM PST by blam
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To: Holly_P
Did The Ancient Greeks Make A Computer?

And somewhere someone in HR wants to know why they can't get the latest version of Office to run on it.

56 posted on 11/01/2003 11:31:13 AM PST by MattAMiller
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To: Holly_P
>>Windows 100 B.C.?

ROTFLMAO
57 posted on 11/01/2003 11:44:56 AM PST by Future Useless Eater (Freedom_Loving_Engineer)
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To: farmfriend
Interesting--thanx for ping!
58 posted on 11/01/2003 11:45:26 AM PST by Ff--150 (we have been fed with milk, not meat)
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To: Holly_P
so now the UFO conspiracy theorists will claim computers were first given to the ancient Greeks.

(of course the ancient Greek did design the first robot)
59 posted on 11/01/2003 12:06:52 PM PST by longtermmemmory (Vote!)
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To: Holly_P
Spark Plugs of the Gods.
60 posted on 11/01/2003 12:10:24 PM PST by GodBlessRonaldReagan (where is Count Petofi when we need him most?)
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