The Antikythera Mechanism

The Antikythera Mechanism is one of the oldest astronomical instruments in the world. The Antikythera Mechanism was discovered between the years 1900 and 1901 in an ancient shipwreck in the Greek island of Antikythera.[1] It is probably the first known Mechanical Universe and Planetarium, and also the first analog computer. Importantly, the Antikythera Mechanism served as an astronomical, climatological, and meteorological device, which made it have a central role in everyday life of ancient Greeks.[2] Therefore, this device illustrates the ancient Greeks advancement in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology, and their desire to understand and influence their environment.
Functions of the Antikythera Mechanism
Since time immemorial, people have been trying to understand and control their environment. This desire made them want to know how they can predict seasons, know time zones of different areas, and understand different climatic environments. Moreover, the understanding of the different world latitudes and longitudes was an essential social science in applied social science.[3] Gradually, people started to understand the regularity of motions, celestial bodies, stars, the moon, and planets, and how they relate to their seasons. It is from this understanding that people developed various astronomical tools. Therefore, as an astronomical tool, the Antikythera Mechanism played an important social, cultural, and economic role to the people of ancient times. Importantly, this tool made ancient Greeks to know their seasons, which was necessary for enabling them to know when to plant, harvest, travel, or initiate certain cultural festivals, and sports.[4] This tool was also important in their planning process since it could help them read time and schedule meetings. Importantly, the roles played by the tool enhanced both cultural and economic interactions of communities, which enhanced social cohesiveness, and economic growth.
The Antikythera Mechanism
For years, the divers who retrieved the Antikythera scraps were unable to identify the more than 80 pieces that make up the Antikythera Mechanism. It is only after the use of X-ray imaging in the 1970s and 1990s that scientist discovered that the pieces belonged to an advanced astronomical machine. Due to the condition of the damaged boxed that housed the Antikythera Mechanism, an epigraphy expert, instead of the use of carbon dating, was used to estimate the time when the device was made. Based on the Greek lettering on the device, the expert concluded that the machine might have been used between 150 and 100 BC. Supporting this observation, was the discovery of Hipparchus sculpture, a popular Greece astronomer who lived from about 140 to 120 BC.[5]
The year 2006 CT scans performed on the pieces by Mike Edmunds and Dr. Tony Fetch, of Cardiff University, and their team revealed far more details of the complexity of this machine, its inner workings, and hidden scriptures. The Computed Tomography and X-ray technology, supplied by X-Tek Group in Hertfordshire, and the surface imaging from Hewlett-Packard, revealed that the machine had a sequencing of 37 gears. Overall, the device focused on two 18-19 year solar-lunar periods, Saros and Metonic, which are in the ‘back dial’ of the mechanism. Also, the higher-precision multiples of these cycles, the Callipic, and the 54-year 33-day Exeligmos cycles, are marked with separate dials. The ‘front dial’ had a zodiac that a solar pointer revolved yearly. There was also a lunar dial that used to revolve once per sidereal month of 27.3 days.[6]
The Antikythera Mechanism was an astronomical device that was designed for observations, astronomical computer, meteorological or climatological device, calendar mechanism, measuring geographical longitudes and latitudes, and for cartography and navigation. The device could calculate the position of the sun, moon, as well as the phases of the moon in the month, and predict the sun and moon eclipses.[7] Additionally, the Antikythera Mechanism consisted of many calendars, such as the Solar year (Egyptian calendar), the four year Olympiad period, and the Lunisolar Saros, which had 18 years 11 days and 8 hours.[8] Noteworthy, the Lunisolar Saros could predict the solar and lunar eclipses.  The Antikythera Mechanism also had the lunisolar Exeligmos of 54 years and one month and the lunisolar Meton 19 year circle. There was also the 19 year Hebrew calendar cycle, the 76 years lunisolar Callippus cycle.[9] Finally, some pointers indicated the timing of the Greek Olympic Games and Greek festivals.
Past Astronomical Devices
Although the Antikythera Mechanism is probably the most advanced ancient astronomical machine, it was not the only one of its kind. Posdonoius also developed an astronomical device that was captured on the treatise by Cleomedes, On the Circular Motions of the Celestial Bodies. Importantly, he advanced the theory that the sun produced vital energy that controlled the world. The orrery constructed by Posdonius was similar to that of the Antikythera Mechanism. In particular, it exhibited the diurnal motions of the sun, moon, and five planets.[10] This device also measured the earth circumference, which was determined using the elevation of the Canopus to establish the latitude difference between Rhodes and Alexandria. Although Posidonius method was correct, the actual results were only 240,000 stadia, which is a third smaller than the world’s circumference due to observational error.[11]
Operating the Antikythera Mechanism
From the scientific analysis of the machine parts, it was observed that the Antikythera Mechanism was made using bronze gears that had several trains and axles that moved several pointers along different scales. Each of the dials and clock faces served different functions for measuring the moon, sun, stars, and planets. Also, all the dials were operated using one crank. First, there was little stone that moved across the machine’s face to show the movements of the five planets known at that time, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter. There was also a dial that showed the position of the sun and moon relative to the 12 constellations of the zodiac.[12] There was a dial that showed the sun and solar eclipse and predicted their color. Additionally, there was a 365-day solar calendar in one dial, a 19-year lunar calendar, a tiny pearl ball that rotated and showed the position of the moon, and a dial with a mechanism that counted the Olympic days.[13]
Conclusion
The Antikythera Mechanism was developed between 150 and 100 BC, which makes it one of the oldest computer, and reveals ancient Greeks advancement in science, engineering, astronomy, and technology. The device worked using gears that enabled individuals to know the location of the sun, moon, planets, and identify the occurrence of eclipses. The mechanism used the Meton’s period (19 years) and Callippus period (76 years) to determine the dates of Olympics Games and important Greece festivities such as the Naan, Isthmian, Nemean, and Pythian. Accordingly, the Antikythera Mechanism was necessary for the social and cultural purposes of the Greeks. In particular, it helped them in planning their festivities and events, scheduling their trips, identifying the appropriate planting season, and promoting science and technology through its development.
Bibliography
Bevan, Edwyn. Stoics and Skeptics: Zeno of Citium and the Stoa, the Stoa, Posidonius of Apamea, the Sceptics, Pyrrho of Elis, Arcesilaus of Pitane, Carneades of C. Ares Publishers, 1980.
Freeth, Tony, Jones, Alexander, Steele, John, and Bitsakis, Yanis. “Calendars with Olympiad display and eclipse prediction on the Antikythera Mechanism.” Nature, 454, (2008): 614-617. Accessed February 9, 2018. http://www.antikythera-mechanism.gr/system/files/Antikythera_Nature2008_submitted.pdf.
Kollerstrom, Nick. Decoding the Antikythera Mechanism. Astronomy Now, pp. 28-32. March 2007. Accessed February 9, 2018, http://www.dioi.org/kn/Antikythera%20mechanism.pdf.
Merchant, Jo. Decoding the Antikythera Mechanism, the First Computer. Smithsonian.com. Accessed February 9, 2018.  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/decoding-antikythera-mechanism-first-computer-180953979/.
Moussas, X. “The Antikythera Mechanism, the Oldest Known Astronomical Device and Mechanical Universe.” European Planetary Science Congress 2010 5, no. EPSC20101-901, (2010): 1-3. Accessed February 9, 2018, https://meetings.copernicus.org/epsc2010/abstracts/EPSC2010-901-1.pdf.
Resnick, Brian. The Antikythera mechanism is a 2000-year-old computer. VOX. 2017. Accessed February 9, 2018. https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/5/17/15646450/antikythera-mechanism-greek-computer-astronomy-google-doodle.
 
[1] X, Moussas, “The Antikythera Mechanism, the Oldest Known Astronomical Device and Mechanical Universe,” European Planetary Science Congress 2010 5, no. EPSC20101-901, (2010): 1.
[2] Ibid., 2
[3] Ibid., 2.
[4] X, Moussas, “The Antikythera Mechanism, the Oldest Known Astronomical Device and Mechanical Universe,” European Planetary Science Congress 2010 5, no. EPSC20101-901, (2010): 1.
[5] Ibid., 3.
[6] Merchant, Jo. Decoding the Antikythera Mechanism, the First Computer. Smithsonian.com. Accessed February 9, 2018.  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/decoding-antikythera-mechanism-first-computer-180953979/.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Merchant, Jo. Decoding the Antikythera Mechanism, the First Computer. Smithsonian.com. Accessed February 9, 2018.  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/decoding-antikythera-mechanism-first-computer-180953979/.
[9] Resnick, Brian. The Antikythera mechanism is a 2000-year-old computer. VOX. 2017. Accessed February 9, 2018. https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/5/17/15646450/antikythera-mechanism-greek-computer-astronomy-google-doodle.
[10] Bevan Edwyn, Stoics and Skeptics: Zeno of Citium and the Stoa, the Stoa, Posidonius of Apamea, the Sceptics, Pyrrho of Elis, Arcesilaus of Pitane, Carneades of C. Ares Publishers, 1980.
[11] Ibid
[12] Kollerstrom Nick, Decoding the Antikythera Mechanism, Astronomy Now, pp. 28-32. March 2007. Accessed February 9, 2018, http://www.dioi.org/kn/Antikythera%20mechanism.pdf.
[13] Resnick Brian, The Antikythera mechanism is a 2000-year-old computer, VOX. 2017. Accessed February 9, 2018. https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/5/17/15646450/antikythera-mechanism-greek-computer-astronomy-google-doodle.