Monday, August 25, 2008

Brains And Bronze

The Antikythera Mechanism, a mysterious astronomical device dated around 150 BC, continues to surprise scholars over 100 years after its discovery. Found in 1901 among the wreckage of a merchant ship off the Greek island of Kythera, nothing was known about the corroded bronze lump until it broke apart to reveal several tiny gears and dials. A manual describing its setup and use was inscribed on the back door, but even with new technology like X ray analysis and reconstructions, there is a lot to be learned about the ancient Greek computer.

Although its function is not entirely clear, recent studies published in Nature suggest that it functioned as a calendar, solar eclipse predictor, and marker of the ancient Olympic Games. More importantly to us, the Antikythera Mechanism “promises to revolutionize our understanding of the history of technology and astronomy" as its secrets are uncovered.