Two researchers have conducted a new study trying to better understand the Antikythera Mechanism, an ancient Greek mechanism that modeled the known universe 2,000 years ago. The study, published in the Archive for History of Exact Science, has helped the researchers reveal new clues about the antique Greek astronomical puzzle that has fascinated archaeologists for decades.
As part of the research, the scientists studied the Antikythera Mechanism and Babylonian records of eclipses for several years, and suggested that the device was dated to 205 B.C., which is 50 to 100 years older than most researchers previously thought. The clocklike Antikythera Mechanism, which is also called “world’s first computer,” was recovered from an ancient shipwreck on the bottom of the sea off Greece in 1901.
According to the researchers, the new findings indicate that the ancient Greeks could predict eclipses, and engineered the highly complex machine at an earlier stage than believed. The study also supports the idea that the eclipse prediction scheme was not based on Greek trigonometry -- which was nonexistent in 205 B.C. -- but on Babylonian arithmetical methods, borrowed by the Greeks. The two researchers involved in the study are James Evans, professor of physics at University of Puget Sound and Christián Carman, history of science professor at University of Quilmes, Argentina.
The dating of the Antikythera Mechanism’s creation also supports an old belief that Archimedes created a similar mechanism, which was carried back to Rome by the Roman general Marcellus, after the sack of Syracuse and the death of Archimedes in 212 B.C.
“If the Antikythera mechanism did indeed use an eclipse predictor that worked best for a cycle starting in 205 BC, the likely origin of this machine is tantalizingly close to the lifetime of Archimedes,” according to a statement from the University of Puget Sound.
To arrive at the 205 B.C. date, Evans and Carman used a method of elimination, which allowed researchers to examine the hundreds of ways that Antikythera’s eclipse patterns could match Babylonian records. The researchers used their system to eliminate dates successively, until they ended up with a single possibility.
“The calculations take into account lunar and solar anomalies (which result in faster or slower velocity), missing solar eclipses, lunar and solar eclipses cycles, and other astronomical phenomena,” the university statement read. “The work was particularly difficult because only about a third of the Antikythera’s eclipse predictor is preserved.”