This video is amazing, I didn't even know this computer existed and that it was discovered a century ago. Watch these guys reconstruct the clever mechanism designed by the Greeks, using Lego blocks!
The Antikythera Mechanism: http://bit.ly/fm4oFK is the oldest known scientific computer, built in Greece at around 100 BCE. Lost for 2000 years, it was recovered from a shipwreck in 1901. But not until a century later was its purpose understood: an astronomical clock that determines the positions of celestial bodies with extraordinary precision.
In 2010, we built a fully-functional replica out of Lego.
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Antikythera Mechanism Research Project http://www.antikythera-mechanism.gr
The world’s oldest astronomical calculator is famous for having intricate gear systems centuries ahead of their time. But new work shows the Antikythera mechanism used pure geometry, as well as flashy gears to track celestial bodies’ motion through the heavens.
Called the Antikythera mechanism, the machine gracefully kept track of the day of the year, the positions of the sun and the moon, and perhaps the other planets. It also predicted eclipses and kept track of upcoming Olympic games.
Most of the mechanism’s calculations were driven by a series of 37 interlocking dials, which may have been manipulated by a hand crank. The front of the mechanism had a clock-like face that denoted the calendar date in two concentric circles, one showing the signs of the Greek zodiac, and one carrying the Egyptian months of the year.
Three hands denoting the date and the position of the sun and the moon moved through the zodiac and the months as the gears turned.
“It’s a pretty elaborate piece of machinery,” said science historian James Evans of the University of Puget Sound in a presentation at the University of Washington in Seattle on March 31. “Nobody would ever have guessed that there could be something this complex in the second century [BC].”
Earlier research showed the device also accounted for a subtle weirdness in the motion of the moon. Because the moon’s orbit around the Earth is an ellipse, not a perfect circle, the moon seems to speed up and slow down over the course of a month. In 2006, Tony Freeth of Cardiff University and colleagues showed that a clever configuration of two overlapping gears, with the top gear laid off-center from the bottom gear, could give the moon’s marker its irregular speed.
Because of the Earth’s elliptical orbit around the sun, the sun makes a similarly variable trip across the sky, speeding up and slowing down over the course of the year. But the effect is much more subtle than for the moon.
I'm not surprised that 2k years ago humans were able to produce such a machine. They had the means to describe the algorithm, and the technology used was basic (metal). And I'm not surprised that the knowledge was lost, as these relatively hi-tech contraptions were unique and their secrets well kept to protect the power they afforded. Those who were able to utilize such a device, let alone conceive one, were the educated elite. Perhaps it was the first big scam: using the machine to make "supernatural" predictions to the masses. And when the culture, or even a given regime, dies, some of its best accomplishments go with it.
What astounds me is that, at the time, no one thought to "port" the technology to solve other kinds of problems. Had they done it, had this knowledge been shared, methinks the world could be quite different from what it is now.
Perhaps the ship was heading for Rome.
They pretty much controlled the area at that time.