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New Clues for Antikythera Mechanism 183

fuzzybunny writes "The Register reports that British and Dutch scientists located a previously undetected word on the Antikythera Mechanism which seems to confirm its nature as a tool for astronomical prediction. This device is one of the world's first known geared devices; while its purpose is still not 100% clear, according to the article, 'Athens university researcher Xenophon Moussas is reported as saying the "newly discovered text seems to confirm that the mechanism was used to track planetary bodies."'"
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New Clues for Antikythera Mechanism

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  • by brian0918 ( 638904 ) <`brian0918' `at' `'> on Monday June 12, 2006 @08:17PM (#15520717)
    It's also one of the earliest, if not the earliest, -known example of an analog computer.
    • Except for waterclocks: timeline []
      • A water clock is not a computer. See this page [], for example, where they even cite the water clock as a possible power source for the Antikythera mechanism.
    • This makes me wonder what future civilizations will think about all of these silicon squares (semiconductors) once we're gone. Jewelry?
      • This makes me wonder what future civilizations will think about all of these silicon squares (semiconductors) once we're gone. Jewelry?

        Obviously pieces of some elaborate boardgame. One player would be 'Intel', the other would be 'AMD'. The rules are not known to us, but we presume that they bear some resemblance to checkers. This theory is supported by the Pacific-Northwest legends of a tribe called 'G4m3ers'.

      • I think the two main reasons that we often don't understand ancient technology is because the records of the technology were probably pretty sparse to begin with, and we just don't do things that way any more.

        Since ancient times, however, our record-keeping has become astoundingly prolific. Instead of just one library, that burned down, there are hundreds of thousands of libraries around the world, any one of which is likely to have all the references you need to understand the basis of all our current tec
    • Another thing which makes it this so unique is that it uses differential gears ...
      This predates the current inventions by nearly 2 millenuim.
      Actually, it seems, the current differntial gears even took data from the Greeks for the same.

      They really knew what they were doing.
      If a civilization knew maths, they knew quite a bit.
      Makes me wonder how much information would have been lost of the earlier civilizations, esp. the Indus Valley civilisations etc
      The civiliztion which was the epitome of mathematical knowledge at the time.

    • No - it's neither the first known geared device - nor the first use of a differential gear nor the first analog computer. The chinese had them beat by close to 2000 and learn:

      80BC Antikythera mechanism: []

      2000BC South pointing chariot - a geared mechanism with a differential. t []

      The south pointing chariot subtracted the number of revolutions of one wheel from the number
      • Correction: According to Wikipedia, the South pointing chariot was around in 2643BC - so 2563 years before Antikythera - not 2000.
      • by laura20 ( 21566 ) on Tuesday June 13, 2006 @01:36AM (#15522020) Homepage
        Legend, rather than fact. The article says:

        2634 BC According to Legend, Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor designs the South Pointing Chariot. It is built for him by the craftsman Fang Bo.

        I'll point out that the Yellow Emperor is also credited in Chinese lgeend with inventing the cart, the boat, and the calendar. He's a culture-hero and myth, not history to be cited. The Duke of Chou is similiarly legendified.

        Note that the 'reinvention' of it (most likely, the actual invention) dates well after the Antikythera mechanism. And even then, there don't appear to be any surviving plans or carts, and at least one claim that it was an actual person in the cart, not a mechanism.
        • On the other hand, even today, in a team of scientists discovering something new, the head of the project gets most (or all) of the credit...

          In any company, managers take credit for the work done by others, but blame them if anything goes wrong.

          I wouldn't say things have changed that much.

  • Art (Score:5, Funny)

    by Umbral Blot ( 737704 ) on Monday June 12, 2006 @08:17PM (#15520718) Homepage
    I've always been of the opinion that it was some sort of Greek modern art piece.
    Heraclitus: Don't you see the way the gears symbolize man's oppression by the machine?
    • Himapinius: What's a 'machine'?
      • by spun ( 1352 )
        Heraclitus: Well, um... this is! Don't you feel oppressed by it? Oooh! Scary!

        Himapinius: Scared? It's just a little box with gears. What's so scary about-

        Heraclitus: (hitting Himapinius over the head with the machine) Come see the violence inherent in the machine! Look, I've invented performance art!
  • Portable Sky (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Monday June 12, 2006 @08:23PM (#15520748) Homepage Journal
    It's a navigational device that used the night sky, available to everyone in perfect sync, instead of the many calendars that many Old World societies didn't even have. Maps with directions could encode "turning points" or durations in terms of stars and planets, then limit access to them to only those with the antikythera tech.

    The really interesting question is how that portable machine relates to the ancient monuments like the Pyramids, Chichen Itza, and Angkor Wat which replicate star patterns on the ground for the ages.
    • The Greeks collected knowledge from any and every civilization they could find, and anyone they didn't regard as civilized as well. The Greeks were also astonishingly good at geometry. It is therefore possible (not likely, just possible) that they collected enough information on ancient monuments (some of which were ancient even back then, as old to them as as the Mechanism is to us) to deduce cycles and patterns that were universal - ie: that would be seen, no matter where you were on the planet.

      Another po

      • Clear Skies (Score:5, Informative)

        by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Monday June 12, 2006 @11:14PM (#15521488) Homepage Journal
        I haven't heard whether the antikythera actually worked to accurately show the sky, but I expect that further tests will show that it did.

        The Pyramids aren't "incorrectly placed" to represent the stars of "Orion". Their positions are different from Orion's exact shape today, but are exactly correct for their slightly different positions 13.5Ky ago - and again about 12Ky in the future. Discovering that correspondence allowed the discoverers to find 2 previously undocumented pyramids buried nearby, corresponding to other stars in the constellation. FWIW, the "Greek" who knew the Earth was round, even calculating its circumference within 1% accuracy, was Eratosthenes, actually an "Egyptian" (or neighboring "Libyan").

        Angkor Wat is sync'ed to "Draco", also 13.5Ky ago. Other global monuments reflect other constellations, including all kinds of Greek monuments.

        Stonehenge wasn't merely a sundial, but rather a calibration to various celestial events throughout the year and the centuries.

        These devices were used to navigate around a global civilization that shared a celestial framework. Not just markers, but also a consistent framework of stories of supernatural characters that ensured their perpetuation across the world and through time. Because that knowledge was accepted on faith by most, just like most people accept GPS, watches and Web reservation systems on faith today, they're "religious" objects. I hope our exposure to more ancient versions will help us examine our own mystification of current practices at least as much as it demystifies ancient practice.
      • he Greeks already knew the world was round, at least some had deduced that the solar system was centered on the sun, and there was a basic understanding that the planets were closer than the stars, but that they were all a gigantic distance away.

        I don't see why you call that a "possibility", since the Greeks were perfectly aware the Earth was round (they even knew its size), a few had speculated that it moved around the sun, and several suggested that the "fixed" stars were not in fact fixed.

        • I call it a possibility because, unless more books survived the destruction of the Great Alexandrian Library and other attempts to obliterate Classical civilization, we will never know for certain what the Greeks had managed to deduce from their knowledge. Our knowledge of ancient Greek civilization is fragmentary and sometimes contradictory. For example, there is evidence of the Greeks frowning on experimental science, preferring the purity of the abstract. This is one reason their steam engine never got a
      • They're as absurd to me as the archaeologists forever claiming every object they found was a religious icon. I swear, in the year 3000, they'll find dish cloths and decide there was a water cult.

        You may be inclined to think it is absurd but is not without merit; religion and spirituality are very important for creating culture and cohesion in any civilization. Moreover, EVERY SINGLE CIVILIZATION has some sort of mythology underlying their beginning and the beginning of the universe as they know it. Even m

  • Scientist One:
    "The outstanding results obtained from X-Tek's 3-D X-rays are allowing us to make a definitive investigation of the Mechanism. I do not believe it will ever be possible to do better."
    Scientist Two: "newly discovered text seems to confirm that the mechanism was used to track planetary bodies"
    Scientist One:"It's still up in the air, and there's plenty of work yet to be done.""

    "'What was the device actually for?' Was it a used to predict calendars? Was it simply a teaching tool?"

    The last question
    • My guess is that it was probably a demo. There was probably a lot of people who thought they knew everything about everything, and their positions as advisors and sages depending on them being right, or projecting the aura of being.

      Without the modern scientific method, there was no way to arbitrate disputes, which were probably dogmatic. If you claimed to really understand the motion of the heavens, a device like the Antikythera device was a powerful debating tool to have on your side.
  • 80 B.C. (Score:3, Funny)

    by Joebert ( 946227 ) on Monday June 12, 2006 @08:26PM (#15520762) Homepage
    For somthing so old, it looks remarkably similar to my grandpops 1900s pocket watch.
  • Not Surprising (Score:2, Insightful)

    by blank89 ( 727548 )
    The greeks made similar considerable advances soon after the death of Alexander the Great. Astronomy, chemistry and mathematical advaces were common because of the information and resouces shared after Alexander the Great united what was thought to be the civilized world.
  • from the Wik:

    It was inscribed with a text of over 2,000 characters, of which about 95% have been deciphered. The full text of the inscription has not yet been published.

    Why? Go on, I DARE you... publish the text. Let's all have a look, particuarly if it says "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" over and over... Tell us what it says. We can handle it.

    Scientists seem quite keen on delaying the release of their findings until such time as they Know Everything There Is To Know about [insert whatever it is here]. Haven't they heard of beta?
    • When MS Windows crashes and burns you reboot.

      Try that with your career. These guys need to publish to stay employed and they have to be right as often as possible.

    • Per link to, "A final conclusion on the Mechanism's purpose is expected in 2006, after full examination of the data. The investigation continues to be filmed for a major TV documentary," or somebody paid a pretty penny for exclusive rights to its eventual publication.
      • Wouldn't surprise me at all if there was an NDA. Not that long ago I heard about some people that did a high-res scan of Michaelangelo's David and were only allowed to release the 3-D model with DRM applied. Here's an article [], although I don't think it was the original one I read. Apparently the Italians are afraid that the market for Davids is going to be flooded with thousands of "simulated marble replicas" based on the "pirated" scans.

        Right. Or more likely, they're afraid that it might somehow cause peop
    • No kidding. As a scientist, I'm really sick of this "publish by press release" shit. Smacks of Pons and Fleischmann. And withholding the text? What the hell. If you have something, publish it. If not, don't waste our time. This crap is highly suspicious.
    • by The_Wilschon ( 782534 ) on Monday June 12, 2006 @11:26PM (#15521532) Homepage
      At Fermilab, no data gets released until the entire experimental collaboration (500-700 people in the case of CDF and D0) has approved, or "blessed" it. Why is this? One is scientific credibility. You don't get to publish a paper and then send out bugfix updates. Once something is published, it is published for all time (well, until civilisation collapses at least). You can retract it by publishing a retraction, but that is looked upon as evidence of a rather bad failure. The second reason is that since it is a US national laboratory, the government owns the data. The department of energy, as I understand it, requires this blessing process before any analysis of their data is published.
  • The Word (Score:5, Funny)

    by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Monday June 12, 2006 @08:58PM (#15520929) Homepage
    For those wondering, the text they discovered was "...etarium Pat. Pending (1)"
  • What's new? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sbaker ( 47485 ) * on Monday June 12, 2006 @09:03PM (#15520951) Homepage
    I've been hearing about all of these new discoveries about the device over the past week - but I don't see *ANY* new knowledge. We hear that there is finally proof that it's an analog computer - and that finding this word proves it's an astronomical calculator - but I have a book printed 15 years ago that says exactly that. The mechanism that calculates sun and moon positions is completely well understood and has been for years. There are working replicas of the device in several museums that demonstrate how it works.

    Check out the Wikipedia article.

    So if these guys have really learned something new - they are failing to communicate whatever it ACTUALLY is that they've found.
    • by DrKyle ( 818035 )
      The thing they don't want leaked out is that the insciption actually says " (c)80 B.C. Piltar the gearmaker, all rights reserved". How he KNEW it was 80B.C. is anyones guess, what did they think they were counting down to?
  • Obligatory (Score:3, Funny)

    by MrNougat ( 927651 ) <ckratsch@gmail . c om> on Monday June 12, 2006 @09:07PM (#15520971)
    Best. Mechanism. Evar.
  • by OnanTheBarbarian ( 245959 ) on Monday June 12, 2006 @09:07PM (#15520972)
    Back in 1993, I had an officemate (Bernard Gardner, working for the late Allan Bromley) who worked on doing a 3D reconstruction of this mechanism using the tomography images that had recently been done. From what I recall, they made a bit of progress, discovering that two gears that were previously thought to be joined were merely next to each other and on independent axles; the previous assumption would have resulted in a mechanism that couldn't operate (locked together). But they still really didn't know what it did, and sadly, Allan Bromley (who was one of the main people interested in this device) died in 2002.

    Overall, it's a fascinating find - I never cease to be amazed at the complexity of many pre-industrial artifacts.
    I'm curious as to what sort of mechanical insights - not just inscription reading - the new analysis technique can provide.

  • I'm amazed (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Simon Garlick ( 104721 ) on Monday June 12, 2006 @09:08PM (#15520976)
    ... that so many of the comments made thus far are attempts at humour.

    The Antikythera Mechanism is either JOYOUSLY UPLIFTING or SOUL-CRUSHINGLY DEPRESSING. It isn't funny.

    Uplifting because the human race developed the differential gear and incredibly intricate machinery TWO THOUSAND YEARS earlier than we thought, and used that technology for science.

    Depressing because the human race then lobotomized itself and we practically went back to living in caves.

    We had something amazing, and we lost it so utterly that we forgot we'd ever had it. Go humanity.
    • Re:I'm amazed (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Moridineas ( 213502 )
      Only that's not really true. Nobody who studies history today would use the term "Dark Ages" for instance. human progress never stopped, it may have slowed at times and certain areas may have have fallen behind temporarily, but on a whole, the world has seen a never-ending march forward. Much of the technology available a thousand years later (when you think people were living in caves?) was far ahead of what the greeks had in many other areas.

      Not to mention, there's a tradition of automata similiar to this
      • Nobody who studies history today would use the term "Dark Ages" for instance. human progress never stopped, it may have slowed at times...

        Reminds me, I have to go finish my documentation...

      • Re:I'm amazed (Score:2, Interesting)

        by davidgay ( 569650 )
        "Dark Ages" was always an anglo-centric concept. The French think about Charlemagne (look him up if you don't know him, i.e., if your European history was anglo-centric) when they think about that time period.

        David Gay

        • Definitely I agree. The whole concept is decidely EURO-centric even. Some of the greatest peaks of Arab civilization were reached while Europe was relatively behind. Likewise Islamic Spain. Likewise, T'ang China, South American civilizations, etc.

          it's like global warming--large variations can exist in small areas, but one needs to look at the global picture to understand the trends.
      • And if it's not as enlightened as other ages - progressing slower than any other time - it's the dark ages. You're just redefining the term. Obviously progress wouldn't completely stop, but it came to a virtual standstill. It was the dark ages.
        • ok, so for the sake of discussion, why don't give me a definition of what the "dark ages" was? Perhaps you can give me a rough date range?
          • How about the time between when the Goths destroyed the civilization of Rome, and the time when they adopted Roman-style civilization themselves (e.g. paved roads, large cities, etc.)?
            • Sure, roughly 500-1000 AD? (less? 500-800?)..

              This is the period of great Byzantine growth, of the rule of Heraclius, of the rule of Justinian and his famous laws, and of the construction of the Hagia sophia--Ayasofya today--one of the most magnificent buildings I've had the pleasure of visiting.

              Also of the splendor of the Mesopotamian city of Ctesiphon and the Persian Empire that expanded east to the Mediterranean, west towards India, south to Oman and Africa and north into the caucuses. Many magnificent ar
    • "And over the course of 100 Million years, in an almost never changing world, the dinosaurs continued to develop. The smaller, feather covered species developed throwing sticks as protection and hunting implements, and the skins of their prey were used to carry other skins which were used as camoflage and cold-weather gear.

      It's such a shame the impact at Chicxulub completely destroyed these fascinating creatures. I wonder where they would be today, had they survived the K-T boundary event."

      All things in the
      • The Greek knowledge, lost, and rediscovered 19 centuries later might well have lead to period of warfare for 2000 years. We might now, just be learning to create steel as a result...

        I'd say we would likely have had steel sooner, seeing as how war tends to drive technological advancement.

    • Re:I'm amazed (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Monday June 12, 2006 @10:29PM (#15521287) Homepage Journal
      If it were the only example, I'd agree with you. The Greeks had working steam power (not surpassed until the Industrial Revolution), an idea the solar system was centered on the sun, the beginnings of a theory of robotics, high-ranking female scientists, possibly a printing system (the Phaios Disk is printed, not written or carved) and maybe any number of discoveries we don't even know they had. The "dark ages" were not truly barbaric - art flourished then as it had never done before or ever since - but the total collapse of science and the loss of knowledge was a terrible tragedy. Not only did it put humanity 2,000 years behind on technology, but the re-learning devastated the environment and it is entirely possible that human civilization will not be capable of undoing the damage fast enough.
      • You obviously get your history from TV or the Wikipedia. There's essentially not one single statement in your message that's completely true.
        • That may be true, but if you do not point out that halve truths hidden in the grand parent then you're not helping much. As far as I know you could simply be stating that to be trollish or something. I am not saying that you're lying, that I don't know, I have a limited knowledge in history, in fact I do get my history from TV, magazines and wikipedia ;-) and because of that I cannot say what is wrong the grand parent.

          Please enlight us...
    • Depressing because the human race then lobotomized itself and we practically went back to living in caves.

      Even more depressing, is - maybe it's not the first time the human race lobotomized itself. Still more depressing: it may not be the last time.

  • by caitsith01 ( 606117 ) on Monday June 12, 2006 @09:16PM (#15521007) Journal
    The Register reports that British and Dutch scientists located a previously undetected word

    May I recommend the present perfect simple [] tense? I think you'll find that nuanced grammar adds a delightful twist to the English language.

    For instance:

    Slashdot contributors and editors have discovered that applying simple grammatical principles can significantly enhance their audience's comprehension of stories posted on the site
    • Present perfect is actually a surprisingly hard idea to grasp for many non-native English speakers, simply because it does not have any direct analogy in their languages.
    • Slashdot contributors and editors have discovered that applying simple grammatical principles can significantly enhance their audience's comprehension of stories posted on the site
      Or, my favorite:
      Slashdot "editors" have discovered that they really could not care less.
  • How certain are people about the age of this device? The consensus seems to be 80 BC, but what dating methods have been employed to reach that conclusion?

    • How certain are people about the age of this device?

      It definitely predated Ptolomy's ptime, as I believe he made reference in one of his discourses to "the astrological instrument". This could have referenced the Antikythera device or some form of astrolabe ("star-taker", an analogue timepiece based on star elevation, which see) or quadrant, but it's pretty clear that some form of star-oriented calculator predated 60AD.

      As an aside, "Astrological" in this sense was equivalent to "Astronomical", for it's

    • Re:Curious (Score:2, Informative)

      by kfg ( 145172 )
      The device was found in a shipwreck. The ship appears to have been a Roman trader on its way back to Italy. By dating the goods on the ship the wreck has been dated to the later half of the first century B.C.

      The device is inscribed. The typography is the sort that was prevelant in the later half of the first century B.C. So are the words and the grammatical structure.

      Two independant means of dating accord with each other.

      The specific figure 80 B.C. comes from an estimate of its age being 65 B.C. +/- 15 year
      • an estimate of its age being 65 B.C. +/- 15 years, so 80 B.C. is actually the youngest it is estimated it could be

        Years B.C. are essentially negative numbers, so 80BC was 2086 years ago and 50BC was 2056 years ago. So their estimate is really the oldest it could be.
    • How certain are people about the age of this device? The consensus seems to be 80 BC, but what dating methods have been employed to reach that conclusion?

      The hands stopped at five past six, March 3 80 BC.
  • It seems rather ironic that the first example of such a device of this complexity and precision was brought to our attention after having been found on the bottom of the sea on a Roman shipwreck. Mention is made in the Wikipedia article of perhaps similar but less complex objects, but this markedly more complex mechanism was preserved well enough to (probably) discern its function and actually pull 95% of the text off the device. I wonder if there's any chance some trove of such historical artifacts awaitin
  • by CaptainCarrot ( 84625 ) on Monday June 12, 2006 @10:22PM (#15521252)
    From TFA:
    If the Antikythera Mechanism is indeed what the investigators believe it is, then there are further suggestions that it may be based on a heliocentric view of the solar system - highly unusual at a time when most Greeks accepted Aristotle's view that the universe revolved around the Earth.

    And what makes us think that most Greeks believed in a geocentric universe? We know precious little about what they knew back then, since we have only a handful of their writings. To insinuate that we have anything like a complete map of the intellectual landscape of the time is sheerest puffery.

    A minute's thought might convince us that a heliocentric model was available to them: They knew the earth was a sphere; they knew its size; they knew the sun was far enough away that its rays arrived parallel for all intents and purposes. Add to that that as soon as someone tried to build something like the Antikythera Mechanism they must perforce have noticed (as did Kepler a millennium and a half later) that it's far easier to model the heavens if you place the sun in the center rather than the earth.

    Even this mechanism itself cannot be unique, as some articles about it have hinted. An automaton/clockwork/astronomical model this complex cannot have leapt full-formed from the mind of a single inventor. There must be an entire lineage of similar devices. That we have only a single example is simply a hint that there was much more to their technology than we're currently aware of. It's also an indication of how easy it is for a cultural calamity to erase collective memories of high tech; a warning for our times if nothing is. Not to mention that the correct ideas are not necessarily those which survive such a calamity. After all, when the Roman Empire fell, Medieval Europe inherited the Ptolemaic model. Of course, by then Ptolemy was writing (ca. 150) he probably had to work without the benefit of the bulk of the Royal Library at Alexandria [] so he may have been left to his own devices when considering a model of planetary motion.

    • And what makes us think that most Greeks believed in a geocentric universe? We know precious little about what they knew back then, since we have only a handful of their writings. To insinuate that we have anything like a complete map of the intellectual landscape of the time is sheerest puffery.

      I particularly love how we treat these ancient cultures as monolithic and do not make allowances for multiple popular theories. They either 'Are' heliocentric or they 'Are Not' heliocentric. We love to take one find
  • My God! (Score:2, Funny)

    It's full of stars!

    Sorry, had to.
  • by colenski ( 552404 ) on Monday June 12, 2006 @11:24PM (#15521522) Homepage
    I saw this on the Wikipedia entry:

    "It also adds support to the idea that there was an ancient Greek tradition of complex mechanical technology which was later transmitted to the Arab world, where similar but simpler devices were built during the medieval period. Of course, they had to copy it. Jawas would never come up with such a white device on their own."

    I couldn't believe what I was seeing, and I refreshed, and it dissapeared. But I found it again in the edits [] and that blew me away.

    Shame on the racist troll asshole that put that up. (NB: it wasn't me!)
  • Could not this device be proof of time travel?
  • All These Worlds Are Yours Except Europa. Attempt No Landings There
  • Have you ever in your life seen an engineer who would actually document his work? Therefore, it must be art.

"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger