Scientists and archaeologists have long known that the Antikythera Mechanism — a device that was discovered in an ancient shipwreck near Crete in 1901 — was astonishingly ahead of its time when it was built nearly 2,100 years ago. However, there was one thing no one had been able to figure out — what exactly was this contraption, made of several large gears and cogs, used for?
After more than a decade’s efforts that involved using state-of-the art scanning devices to decipher about 3,500 characters of explanatory text written in ancient Greek beneath the surface of the corroded fragments, scientists have come to the conclusion that the device was used for both astronomical and astrological purposes.
“Now we have texts that you can actually read as ancient Greek, what we had before was like something on the radio with a lot of static,” Alexander Jones, a historian from New York University and a member of the team that deciphered the text, reportedly said. “It’s a lot of detail for us because it comes from a period from which we know very little about Greek astronomy and essentially nothing about the technology, except what we gather from here. So these very small texts are a very big thing for us.”
According to studies published in the latest edition of the peer-reviewed journal Almagest, the Antikythera Mechanism, often called the world’s first analog computer, was, in addition to pinpoint the positions of sun, stars and the moon, used to predict solar and lunar eclipses — events ancient Greeks believed could impact human affairs.
“The Antikythera mechanism simulated a Hellenistic cosmology in which astronomy, meteorology and astral divination were intertwined,” the researchers said.
Some of the inscriptions on the device refer to the “color” of a forthcoming eclipse — something we now know is impossible to predict.
“We are not quite sure how to interpret this, to be fair, but it could hark back to suggestions that the color of an eclipse was some sort of omen or signal,” team member Mike Edmunds, a professor of astrophysics at Cardiff University, reportedly said. “Certain colors might be better for what’s coming than other color. If that is so, and we are interpreting that correctly, this is the first instance we have in the mechanism of any real mention of astrology rather than astronomy.”