Scientists have long tried to decipher the purpose of Antikythera Mechanism and understand its place in the Ancient Greek’s world. The technological secret was somehow lost over the centuries, and the complexity of the device was achieved again only hundreds of years later.
Antikythera was discovered in 1901 on a shipwreck near the Greek island Antikythera.
The instrument is displayed at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, and it comprises a complicated system of gears. It had been dated to 60 BC, and it was most probably used by ancient Greeks to calculate the dates of solar and lunar eclipses.
Until now, scientists have tried to understand the internal mechanism of the instrument. However, another team has worked for over a decade to decode the inscriptions made on the outside of the gears.
The theory says that the mechanism shows planets and the positions of the sun and the moon. However, the sky map has an additional metaphysical purpose. Scientists discovered that ancient Greeks took into consideration the color of the eclipse. Although not yet proved, the color was seen as an omen.
Scientists believe that the instrument helped Greeks not only to understand the planetary movements but also to get a feeling of their position in the cycles of the Universe. If the theories proved to be correct, this would be the first time Antikythera shows to have not just an astronomical purpose, but also an astrological one.
Antikythera is thought to have been built on the islands of Rhodes in a small workshop, and it had been referred to in more than a dozen pieces of classical literature.
The calculator could perform simple mathematical operations, such as addition and multiplication. It could also align the sun and the moon in the zodiac, and display the lunar calendar.
Antikythera is a rusted piece of metal with visible gears and triangular teeth. One side handle would stir almost seven hands that would indicate the position of the Sun, the moon, and also the place of five other planets that must have been visible to the naked eye: Mercury, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Saturn.
On the surface of the instrument, scientists found 3,500 characters which they had to unveil from the rust. As there is little information on the ancient Greeks’ technology, researchers are very enthusiastic.
The text described the instrument and its function, while the mechanism should have shown the dates of the lunar and solar eclipses. The Ancient Greeks believed that both events could influence human affairs.
Even though it was imperfect, it reflected precisely the ancient astronomical knowledge.
Scientists have not yet discovered why the technology was lost. The complexity of the mechanics remained unique for more than 1,000 years, and only the later medieval clocks in the European cathedrals were able to match the same level of technology.
The researchers are now looking for other missing fragments at the site of the shipwreck, as Antikythera could prove to be a much more intriguing instrument.
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