In 1902 sponge divers discovered 81 fragments of an ancient, unknown tool at the bottom of the sea near the Greek island of Antikythera. Dated around the first century B.C., this early “computer” was the most complex technology of its time – and for another thousand years. Originally thought to be an astrolabe, the mechanism tracked and predicted the cycles of the solar system and the movement of heavenly bodies.
Beginning in fall 2005, a team of British and Greek scientists and researchers used innovative digital imaging and 3-D X-ray technology to take high-res pictures of the mechanism, inside and out, including detailed inscriptions that offer insight into the tool’s functions. Now a London museum curator, Michael Wright, has built a working replica – the first to incorporate all the details of the original, including the Greek and Egyptian calendars, markers indicating locations of the moon and five planets known to the ancient Greeks, and predictions of solar and lunar eclipses. The three dials even include a movable dial to account for leap years.
The Antikythera mechanism was found among the remains of a Roman merchant ship. As it turns out, just like with art, architecture, and the gods, the Romans knew a good Greek tool when they saw one.