Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

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
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first previous 1-2021-4041-6061-8081-97 next last
To: farmfriend
Please add me to the Gods, Graves, and Glyphs list.
61 posted on 11/01/2003 12:30:44 PM PST by Wilhelm Tell (Lurking since 1997!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 46 | View Replies]

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

It is tragic, what must have been lost. If you think about it long enough, you will frighten yourself to reflect on how civilization hangs on a very thin thread.

62 posted on 11/01/2003 12:36:38 PM PST by Wilhelm Tell (Lurking since 1997!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 55 | View Replies]

To: Petronski
Why am I in the mood for Hot CoCo?

Or am I just showing my age?
63 posted on 11/01/2003 12:52:36 PM PST by JosephW
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 47 | View Replies]

To: Wilhelm Tell
"If you think about it long enough, you will frighten yourself to reflect on how civilization hangs on a very thin thread."

I'm an anthropology 'catastrophist,' I know what you mean. In 44BC there was a worldwide (mild) catastrophe recorded by tree rings. I wonder if the loss of this instrument is related to that time?

64 posted on 11/01/2003 12:53:19 PM PST by blam
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 62 | View Replies]

To: Holly_P
I could read it fine...thanks for the interesting article!
65 posted on 11/01/2003 12:54:20 PM PST by ruoflaw
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Holly_P
...I have been a member for one day

I understand that everything you post is totally representative of your Grampa's viewpoints.

66 posted on 11/01/2003 1:20:06 PM PST by Lazamataz (PROUDLY SCARING NEWBIES SINCE 1999 !!!!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

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

"Look, you're the computer 'expert', you fix it." (hands on hips)

67 posted on 11/01/2003 1:22:07 PM PST by Lazamataz (PROUDLY SCARING NEWBIES SINCE 1999 !!!!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 56 | View Replies]

To: Holly_P
...I have been a member for one day. ...

Then I guess we should say -- "Welcome aboard!"

68 posted on 11/01/2003 1:27:12 PM PST by ken in texas (Tag line space for rent...)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: Lazamataz
Certainly is the only way to get replies, lately! Sheesh.

OK Laz... I can see you're getting lonely. Here's a reply to make you feel better. There, there, now. Nice Laz........ :)

69 posted on 11/01/2003 1:28:55 PM PST by ken in texas (Tag line space for rent...)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 22 | View Replies]

To: blam
Speaking of catastrophes:

The case for catastrophe – the theories of myth revisited: Mythopedia

70 posted on 11/01/2003 1:29:07 PM PST by Mackey
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 64 | View Replies]

To: Wilhelm Tell
Consider yourself added. If you ever change your mind, just let me know.
71 posted on 11/01/2003 1:32:50 PM PST by farmfriend ( Isaiah 55:10,11)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 61 | View Replies]

To: farmfriend
Please add me to the Gods, Graves, Glyphs ping list.
72 posted on 11/01/2003 1:34:27 PM PST by nycgal
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 46 | View Replies]

To: nycgal
Consider yourself added. If you ever change your mind, just let me know.
73 posted on 11/01/2003 1:38:26 PM PST by farmfriend ( Isaiah 55:10,11)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 72 | View Replies]

To: ken in texas
There, there, now. Nice Laz........ :)


74 posted on 11/01/2003 1:38:37 PM PST by Lazamataz (PROUDLY SCARING NEWBIES SINCE 1999 !!!!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 69 | View Replies]

To: Lazamataz
You posted my High School graduation picture !
75 posted on 11/01/2003 1:54:55 PM PST by PoorMuttly (.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 74 | View Replies]

To: PoorMuttly
You posted my High School graduation picture!

Muttly EAT bad guy.

76 posted on 11/01/2003 2:03:46 PM PST by Lazamataz (PROUDLY SCARING NEWBIES SINCE 1999 !!!!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 75 | View Replies]

To: Lazamataz
It's genetic...

...and FUN !
77 posted on 11/01/2003 2:13:46 PM PST by PoorMuttly (Proudly Parroting Laz)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 76 | View Replies]

To: Lazamataz
"I understand that everything you post is totally representative of your Grampa's viewpoints".


...He tells me that only #2 through #10 are my bill of rights when I am around him---What a dictatorial old grump!
78 posted on 11/01/2003 2:31:24 PM PST by Holly_P
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 66 | View Replies]

To: Lazamataz
My, what lovely incisors you have!!!
79 posted on 11/01/2003 2:34:46 PM PST by ken in texas (Tag line space for rent...)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 74 | View Replies]

To: Holly_P
At least you got nine of them... my wife only lets me have four. :)
80 posted on 11/01/2003 2:36:04 PM PST by ken in texas (Tag line space for rent...)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 78 | View Replies]


Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first previous 1-2021-4041-6061-8081-97 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson