Antikythera Mechanism Gives Up More Secrets

Device even more ancient than thought, experts say
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 28, 2014 4:27 AM CST
Updated Nov 28, 2014 7:41 AM CST
Antikythera Mechanism Gives Up More Secrets
A diver with a metal detector holds a copper ship's fitting next to a vase at the site of the Antikythera wreck off the island of Antikythera in southern Greece.    (AP Photo/ARGO via Greek Culture Ministry, Brett Seymour)

The incredible Antikythera Mechanism, an astronomical calculator unlike anything else that appeared for the next 1,000 years, is a "device out of time," experts say—and they now have a better idea what time it is out of. The mechanism, which was apparently able to accurately predict eclipses and the positions of the planets, was initially dated to around 87BC by scientists who analyzed its inscriptions in the 1970s; a later analysis changed the window to 150BC to 100BC. But researchers analyzing the device's own calendar and comparing it to Babylonian eclipse records discovered that it begins as much as a century earlier, in 205BC, reports the New York Times. The machine found on an ancient shipwreck appears to use a "Babylonian-style arithmetical scheme" known to the Greeks instead of trigonometry, which came later, the researchers write in the journal Archive for History of Exact Sciences.

The finding means that the mysterious device was already pretty ancient by the time it went down some time around 85BC to 60BC with a ship carrying a bride and her dowry, io9 reports. Researchers have long speculated that great Greek thinkers like Archimedes, Hipparchus, or Posidonius must have been involved in the construction of the dazzlingly advanced mechanism, but they say the new date makes an Archimedes connection unlikely. The new research also offers some clues to the place where it may have been made: An inscription on part of the device used to date the Olympic Games refers to a competition held on the island of Rhodes. (Here's why the wreck the mechanism was found on was recently dubbed the "Titanic of the ancient world.")

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