Feeds

Scientists probe 2,000-year-old Greek computer

'Antikythera Mechanism' may be planetary calculator

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

A bronze Greek device constructed in around 80BC could be the world's oldest computer, joint British-Greek research seems to suggest.

The "Antikythera Mechanism" - consisting more than 30 bronze dials and wheels - was recovered from the wreck of a cargo ship off the Greek island of Antikythera in 1900, the Scotsman reports. Its exact purpose was unknown, although a previous theory centred on it being used to calculate the movement of the planets then known to the Greeks: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

The researchers from the universities of Cardiff, Athens and Thessalonika now believe they are close to cracking the mystery, by bringing to bear very modern X-ray technology which has revealed a previously-hidden Greek inscriptions which may confirm the planetary hypothesis.

The Antikythera Mechanism. Photos: X-Tek

The imaging was done by the X-Tek Group using a "unique" and snappily-named "400kV microfocus Computed Tomography System". British team leader Mike Edmunds of Cardiff University enthused: "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."

The exact nature of the inscriptions is not reported, and while 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", Edmunds advised caution. Acknowledging there was one word identified which may give an indication of the device's purpose, he said lots of decipherment work remained. He told El Reg: "It's still up in the air, and there's plenty of work yet to be done."

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.

According to Michael Wright, the curator of mechanical engineering at the Science Museum in London - who in 2002 advanced the planetary calculator theory - the device may have been constructed in an academy "founded by the Stoic philosopher Poseidonios on the Greek island of Rhodes". Poseidonios's student Cicero later described a device with "similarities" to the Antikythera Mechanism.

Although the researchers seem close to discovering the device's purpose, one poser still remains, as Edmunds explained: "The real question is, 'What was the device actually for?' Was it a used to predict calendars? Was it simply a teaching tool? The new text we have discovered should help answer these questions".

According to Yanis Bitsakis of Athens University, the challenge is to "place this device into a scientific context, as it comes almost out of nowhere ... and flies in the face of established theory that considers the ancient Greeks were lacking in applied technical knowledge".

Edmunds agreed, saying: "I think it is a great testament to the sophistication of the Greeks and how far they advanced before the jackboot of the Romans came through." ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
FORGET the CLIMATE: FATTIES are a MUCH BIGGER problem - study
Fat guy? Drink or smoke? You're worse than a TERRORIST
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
Rosetta probot drilling DENIED: Philae has its 'LEG in the AIR'
NOT best position for scientific fulfillment
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
HUMAN DNA 'will be FOUND ON MOON' – rocking boffin Brian Cox
Crowdfund plan to stimulate Blighty's space programme
Post-pub nosh neckfiller: The MIGHTY Scotch egg
Off to the boozer? This delicacy might help mitigate the effects
I'M SO SORRY, sobs Rosetta Brit boffin in 'sexist' sexy shirt storm
'He is just being himself' says proud mum of larger-than-life physicist
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
LIFE, JIM? Comet probot lander found 'ORGANICS' on far-off iceball
That's it for God, then – if Comet 67P has got complex molecules
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Protecting against web application threats using SSL
SSL encryption can protect server‐to‐server communications, client devices, cloud resources, and other endpoints in order to help prevent the risk of data loss and losing customer trust.
Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile
Data demand and the rise of virtualization is challenging IT teams to deliver storage performance, scalability and capacity that can keep up, while maximizing efficiency.