The Antikythera Mechanism: A 2000 Year Old Mystery

This year, marine archaeologists returned to an ancient Roman shipwreck that was discovered off the Greek island of Antikythera in the 1900’s. The dive yielded more than 50 items, including a bronze armrest, remains of a bone flute and pieces from an ancient board game.

“This shipwreck is far from exhausted, Every single dive on it delivers fabulous finds, and reveals how the ‘1 percent’ lived in the time of Caesar.” Brendan Foley, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

However, the most famous and mysterious item ever pulled from this shipwreck is a device known as the Antikythera Mechanism.

In 1900, sponge divers discovered the wreck and a horde of treasure including statues, a bowl made out of turquoise, and a miniature golden figure of Eros.

They also recovered a unassuming corroded lump. However, when the corroded lump fell apart, it revealed a great mystery. The lump was actually a damaged machine made up of gears some large and many small. The gears also had some words engraved in Greek on them. The first studies of the device concluded that it was some sort of time-keeping device.

In 2006, the device was put through more advanced imaging techniques, that allowed researchers to read more of the inscribed Greek. Also, x-ray imaging was used to create a 3d model of the mechanism. The 3d model revealed that the device actually contained more complex gear mechanisms than originally thought.


So what is the Mechanism actually used for?

Researchers showed that the mechanism not only tracked the Metonic Calendar (a calendar that is 235 months rounded to a full 6,940 days or a period of 19 years), it could also predict solar eclipses down to the month day and hour, as well as calculate the timing of the ancient Olympic games. Very impressive for a machine that was 1500 years ahead of its time.

Read more about this amazing device here.

Watch a working re-creation of the mechanism made out of Legos.

Main ImageAntikythera Mechanism Research Project
ImageWikimedia Commons