Skip to comments.Did The Ancient Greeks Make A Computer?
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."
He really oughta rethink that #2, as well, if you are that pissed at him. ;^)
That's a lot of reading and I didn't read it all. I've seen this (below) interperted as ice bergs and offered as proof that Brendan took a northern route during his visit to North America.
"St. Brendan = St. Brendanus (m.)
Brendan found a crystal tower in the sea and came to an island of giant smiths (Navigatio Sancti Brendani)."
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on, off, or alter the "Gods, Graves, Glyphs" PING list --
Archaeology/Anthropology/Ancient Cultures/Artifacts/Antiquities, etc.
The GGG Digest -- Gods, Graves, Glyphs (alpha order)
To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list. Thanks.Ancient ClepsydraeAccording to M. Vitruvius Pollio, the first improver of the ancient clepsydra, or water-clock, was Ctesibius of Alexandria, the son of a barber, who, about 245 years before Christ, spent much time in devising mechanical contrivances for removing not only the obstacle in question, but also another equally formidable one, which arose from the daily inequality of the Egyptian hours. As one-twelfth part of the time elapsed from sun-rise to sun setting on any day, was called an hour of that day ; and as one-twelfth part of the time that passed from full setting to sun-rise was called an hour of the night; not only did the hours of day differ from the hours of night, but from one another, at all times, except at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes ; hence it became necessary, either to make the water fall irregularly into a receiving vessel, with equidistant hour-marks, or to have varying hour-marks for a regular efflux...
from Rees's Clocks, Watches and Chronometers, 1819
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on or off the
"Gods, Graves, Glyphs" PING list or GGG weekly digest
-- Archaeology/Anthropology/Ancient Cultures/Artifacts/Antiquities, etc.
Gods, Graves, Glyphs (alpha order)
Why not. The Ancient Greeks had every bit of technology required to build a working steam engine. Imagine the Industrial Revolution at the time of Christ. That old Star Trek Episode with televised gladiator boughts and Son worshippers doesn't seem so far fetched.
most recent update:
The Antikythera Mechanism (Computer - 56BC)
Economist | 9-19-2002
Posted on 04/30/2006 10:21:04 PM EDT by blam
Since Oct 31, 2003
Must have been a trick or treater.
Posted on 11/01/2003 11:21:03 AM CST by Holly_P
That was over three years ago.
I didn't even know how to make paragraph breaks back then.
Just updating the GGG info, not sending a general distribution.
· Discover · Nat Geographic · Texas AM Anthro News · Yahoo Anthro & Archaeo · Google ·
· The Archaeology Channel · Excerpt, or Link only? · cgk's list of ping lists ·
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.