The story

Antikythera Mechanism

Antikythera Mechanism



We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.


The Mysterious Antikythera Mechanism is the World’s Oldest Known Computer

In the ancient and classical eras, the Mediterranean Sea was not much of a barrier between the lands bordering its shores. Instead, it was more of a convenient watery highway, facilitating seaborne trade and exchanges between the Mediterranean&rsquos peoples. In the eastern part of that sea is the small island of Antikythera, between the Peloponnesus and Crete. It lies roughly halfway along the sea lanes used by ships plying the waters between Asia Minor and Italy. In antiquity as well as now, Antikythera&rsquos jagged coastline was a hazard to ships, that could easily be dashed to destruction on its unforgiving rocks.

Such destruction was the fate of an unfortunate ship, presumably Roman, that was sailing to the western Mediterranean sometime around 65 BC. That year the ship and its cargo of commercial goods, including luxury items, sank off the island. The wreck lay forgotten at the sea bottom until 1900. In the spring of that year, fishermen diving for sponges off Antikythera, spotted a bronze hand sticking out of the sediment, at a depth of about 150 feet. They informed Greek officials, who then directed a search around what was identified as a sunken ship. It came to be known as the Antikythera Wreck.

Antikythera. Pintrest


The Antikythera Mechanism and the History of Clockwork

In the early autumn of 1900, Captain Dimitrios Kontos and his crew took shelter from a storm on the small, barren island of Antikythera - located on the southern periphery of the Aegean Sea, between Crete and Peloponnese.

The crew was an intrepid bunch made up of six sponge divers and 20 oarsmen on two small vessels. Deep sea diving at the turn of the twentieth century was a physically challenging and dangerous affair. The suits were made from layers of thick canvas sealed with rubber, topped by a copper helmet so heavy it took two men to place it over the diver's head. Fresh air was pushed to the suit through a flexible hose by a compressor on a ship at the surface. Decompression sickness ("the bends"), although poorly understood, was a painful and frequently life-shortening reality for the divers.

Kontos and his crew were returning from an expedition to the sponge fields of Northern Africa when the storm hit. Once the weather had settled some, they decided to take advantage of the forced detour and explore the waters off the coast of the island in search of sponges to harvest.

What they found instead was the site of an ancient shipwreck. A novelty at the time, the Antikythera Wreck became the subject of history's first major underwater archaeological excavation. Artifacts recovered from the wreck included marble and bronze statuary, amphoras, jewelry, lamps, glasswork and tools. Among the artifacts was a small "lump" of corroded bronze and wood that at first went unnoticed as it was brought to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens and placed in storage.

It would be several years before archaeologist Valerios Stais noticed that the artifact had a gear wheel embedded in it. It would then take more than a century for archaeologists, historians, astronomers and mathematicians to unravel its mysteries.

The Antikythera Mechanism, as the artifact would come to be called, is a wonder of engineering. The device is part celestial calculator and part orrey - a mechanical model of the solar system. Roughly the size and appearance of a table clock with dial faces on the front and back, it features about 30 inter-meshing gears operated by turning a hand crank. Among its many capabilities, the Antikythera Mechanism could calculate and display planetary movement and accurately predict eclipses centuries into the future.

In addition to the technological mastery it displays, the mechanism reinforces the primacy of astronomy, not only in the daily lives of the Ancient Greeks, but through their math, science and philosophy as well. From the perspective of the historian it only makes sense that the Ancient Greeks' greatest technological achievement would be an astronomical clock.

There's one aspect of the Antikythera Mechanism that stands out above all else. By conventional wisdom, it shouldn't exist. It would have been only slightly more wondrous for Kontos' divers to have returned with an Ancient Greek steam engine.

There are no other artifacts to imply that the Greeks had come anywhere close to this level of technology. The dating of the wreck is somewhat imprecise, but most experts place it somewhere between 200-100 BC. It would be more than 1,000 before a similar device appears in the written record of the Islamic world, and closer to 1,500 years until clockworks (complex geared mechanisms) at this level are seen in Europe.

The discovery of the Antikythera Mechanism, and the century-long effort to decipher its function, has led to a re-examination of the history of clockwork and its role in the development of mathematics and computation. Derek J. de Solla Price was a physicist and science historian who studied the Antikythera Mechanism extensively from the 1950s until his death in 1983. Price and fellow physicist Charalambos Karakalos conducted the first x-ray study of the device revealing its true complexities. Price began piecing together the theory that the device was a celestial calculator and working out its basic function. Although more recent research has refined our understanding, and sometimes rewritten the subtleties, much of Price's primary work on the device still stands.

As a science historian with a keen interest in the origins of clocks and scientific instruments, Price saw in the mechanism evidence of possible connections among the various ancient cultures and their technologies. Price's expanded view of the early history of gears and clockwork are examined in such papers as On the Origin of Clockwork, Perpetual Motion Devices, and the Compass published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1959.

Clockwork was one of the fundamental technologies propelling automated computation from the time of Pascal's seventeenth century invention of the Pascaline until the emergence of electronic computers in the mid-twentieth century. However, despite the work of Price and other science historians before and since, surprisingly little is known about the origins of geared mechanisms as tools for measurement and calculation.

The earliest reference to a geared mechanism with usefulness beyond the raw transmission of power is generally considered to be the Chinese South Pointing Chariot, attributed in ancient texts as an invention of the Yellow Emperor ca. 2600 BC. There is significant doubt that a real device existed that early, but South Pointing Chariots then appear throughout Chinese history, with the first authenticated reference being much later in the third century AD during the Jin Dynasty. The basic functionality was a two-wheeled chariot with the statue of a person mounted on it, the arm raised and pointing south. As the cart traveled, the statue would rotate, always pointing south regardless of which direction the chariot faced. The direction of the statue was controlled by a geared mechanism. The descriptions of the gearing in the most ancient texts are somewhat vague, but it is believed that the chariots used a configuration similar to modern differential gearing in which an output shaft moves in proportion to two input shafts

In the Hellenistic world, a frequently cited early reference to proportional gearing is the odometer described by Vitruvius (1st century B.C.) and by Hero of Alexandria (1st century A.D.) and sometimes attributed to Archimedes. However, Price expressed some doubt that the odometer would have functioned:

"As for the windlass and hodometer, they do, it is true, contain whole series of gears used in steps as a reduction mechanism, usually for an extraordinarily high ratio, but here the technical details are so etherial that one must doubt whether such devices were actually realized in practice. Thus Vitruvius writes of a wheel 4 feet in diameter and having 400 teeth being turned by a 1-toothed pinion on a cart axle, but it is very doubtful whether such small teeth, necessarily separated by about 3/8 inch, would have the requisite ruggedness."

Another device described by Cicero and attributed to Archimedes is a bronze planetarium. The planetarium was said to show the rise of the sun and moon around the fixed earth, the eclipses of the sun and moon at the correct time intervals, and the movements of the stars and planets. The device would have been part of the spoils brought back to Rome after the conquering of Syracuse in 212 BC. There are fewer technical details of the planetarium than there are for the odometer, however the description is particularly interesting in light of the discovery of the Antikythera Mechanism, and how near in both location and time the two devices would be.

Shifting focus to the Islamic world, the mathematician and scholar al-Biruni (ca. 975 AD) described a device he calls the Moon Box in his text An Elementary Treatise on the Art of Astronomy. The Moon Box was an astronomical calculator driven by a clockwork of eight gears. It showed the rotation of the sun and moon, phases of the moon, signs of the zodiac, days of the week and hours of the day. Price notes many distinct similarities in al-Biruni's description and the Antikythera Mechanism, down to the shape of the gear teeth, holding out the possibility that the requisite knowledge passed uninterrupted across the missing 1,000 years from the Hellenistic to the Islamic traditions.

The Astrolabe with Geared Calendar of Muhammad b. Abi Bakr (ca 1221 AD) appears to be a simplified design based on the Moon Box. Driven by clockwork, a circular window shows the phases of the moon with a number in a small square window tracking days in the lunar cycle. An additional zodiac calendar with two concentric rings shows relative positions of the sun and moon and is useful for understanding and predicting eclipses. Abi Bakr's calendar is the oldest geared mechanism which has survived in a complete state. It is part of the collection at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, England.

In addition to astrolabes and astronomical clocks and calendars, the Islamic literature also includes descriptions of various geared equatorium, devices used to physically model the movement of the the sun, moon and planets. All of this knowledge was transmitted to Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries via the Toledo and Alfonse translations of major texts. The first significant mechanisms to appear in Europe were the equatorium of Richard of Wallingford (1292?-1336) followed shortly thereafter by the Astrarium of Giovanni Dondi dell'Orologio of Padova, built between 1348 and 1364.

Dondi's Astrarium is cited as one of the first mechanical clocks in Europe. It used a balance wheel mechanism to keep time in two second intervals. It was also a remarkably complex astronomical calculator in the tradition of the Antikythera Mechanism and Moon Box. It stood about a meter tall, and used about 107 gears and pinions to calculate and show the positions of the sun, the moon and the five known planets.

From the time of Wallingford and Dondi, the written record of clockwork development in Europe and around the world is continuous. The discovery and study of the Antikythera Mechanism completely changed our understanding of the history of clockwork, its earliest uses, and its transmission among the ancient cultures. With luck, additional artifacts or texts will emerge in the future to help fill in the vast remaining gaps in our knowledge of the development of this critical and fascinating technology.

Sources:

Marchant, Jo., Decoding the Heavens: A 2,000-Year-Old Computer--and the Century-long Search to Discover Its Secrets, Da Capo Press., Cambridge Massachusetts., 2009

de Solla Price, Derek John., On the Origin of Clockwork, Perpetual Motion Devices, and the Compass., Smithsonian Institution, United States National Museum, 1959

Needham, Joseph., Science and Civilization in China: Volume 4, Part 2. Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd., 1986

Dudley Darle W., The evolution of the gear art., American Gear Manufacturers Association., 1969


Antikythera Mechanism

Antikythera (literally "opposite Kythera", Kythera is the next bigger island) is a small Greek island lying on the edge of the Aegean Sea, between Crete and Peloponnese.

In April 1900, group of Greek sponge divers, found a wreck of an ancient Roman galleon at a depth of 60 metres off Point Glyphadia, Antikythera. They retrieved numerous artifacts, dated between 150 to 100 BC, including bronze and marble statues, pottery, unique glassware, jewelry, coins, etc. Between the valuable artifacts there was also an unattractive lump of corroded bronze and wood, which initially remained unnoticed for two years, but later caused a real sensation&mdashthe historians found, that it is a complex gear mechanism (sometimes called the first known analog computer). Technological artifacts approaching its complexity and workmanship did not appear for the next 15 centuries.

The mechanism (a set of 82 remnant fragments) has at least 30 gears and is remarkable for the level of miniaturization and the complexity of its parts, which is comparable to that of 14th-century astronomical clocks, built in several Western European towns.

A fragment of Antikythera mechanism

The main purpose of the device was probably to position astronomical bodies with respect to the celestial sphere along the ecliptic, in reference to the observer’s position on the Earth. There is much debate that the mechanism may have had indicators for all five of the planets known to the ancient Greeks.

The Antikythera mechanism was a remarkable for the time machine designed to predict celestial phenomena according to the sophisticated astronomical theories than, the sole witness to a lost history of brilliant engineering, a conception of pure genius, one of the great wonders of the ancient world.

The Complete History of the Mac

The Macintosh, or Mac, is a series of several lines of personal computers, manufactured by Apple Inc. The first Macintosh was introduced on January 24, 1984, by Steve Jobs and it was the first commercially successful personal computer to feature two … Keep Reading


  • Page 1: Introduction
  • Page 2: The Antikythera Mechanism
  • Page 3: The Pascaline And Other Early Calculators
  • Page 4: Babbage's Analytical Engine, Ada Lovelace And Programming
  • Page 5: IBM In Its Early Years
  • Page 6: The Triode, Transistor And Op-Amp
  • Page 7: Alan Turing And The COLOSSUS
  • Page 8: Claude Shannon's Master Thesis
  • Page 9: The First Electronic Digital Special-Purpose Computer
  • Page 10: Harvard Mark Ι
  • Page 11: Stibitz's Complex Number Calculator And Nordsieck's Differential Analyzer
  • Page 12: Konrad Zuse's Z Series Computers & Plankalkül Programming Language
  • Page 13: The First Bug In Computer History
  • Page 14: ENIAC And EDVAC Computers
  • Page 15: UNIVersal Automatic Computer I - UNIVAC I
  • Page 16: Big Blue Makes Its Entry In The Computer Market
  • Page 17: Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE)
  • Page 18: TX-0, DEC PDP-1, The Hacking Ethic And Other DEC Computers
  • Page 19: Cray Supercomputers
  • Page 20: The Information Technology Revolution - The First Processors (CPUs)
  • Page 21: Xerox PARC And ALTO Computer
  • Page 22: The Era Of Microcomputers: ALTAIR 8800 And Other Early Computers
  • Page 23: Apple I And II: Switching PSU And The Lack Of Cooling Fans
  • Page 24: Commodore PET And TRS-80
  • Page 25: VisiCalc's Revolution And IBM's Entrance Into The Personal Computer Market
  • Page 26: ZX SPECTRUM: The Home Computer Era Begins
  • Page 27: Commodore 64 And CP/M
  • Page 28: Amstrad 464, 664 And 6128
  • Page 29: Atari 520ST And 1040ST(F)
  • Page 30: ATARI TOS, (Mega) STE, TT And The Jaguar Gaming Console
  • Page 31: Commodore Amiga
  • Page 32: Intel 80386 And The Attack Of The Clone PCs - Acorn Archimedes
  • Page 33: NeXT Cube
  • Page 34: The First Graphics Processing Units (GPUs)
  • Page 35: The First Video Games And Game Consoles
  • Page 36: Video Games And Game Consoles Of The 1980s, 1990s And Beyond
  • Page 37: Keyboards And Mice
  • Page 38: Epilogue

In 1900, somewhere between the Greek islands of Kythera and Crete, near the island of Antikythera, several Greek divers found a wooden box in an ancient shipwreck. Inside the box was a clockwork mechanism composed of a number of meshing bronze gears. According to the scientists that examined the device, it was designed to predict astronomical positions and eclipses for calendrical and astrological purposes and it could also predict the Olympiads, or the cycles of ancient Olympic Games that took place every four years.

Due to its complexity, the Antikythera device probably isn't the first of its kind and very likely has some predecessors, which were made during the Hellenistic period (starting in 323 BC), that still remain undiscovered. This means that until we find the predecessors, the Antikythera mechanism is considered the first analog computer ever made. According to more recent research, the Antikythera mechanism is dated at around 205 BC.

It is indeed strange how all of this knowledge was lost during the Antiquity period, and the next mechanisms that had such complexity and required this type of workmanship did not appear again until the 14 th century. The time gap is immense (16 centuries!) and clearly shows that there are many things that we don't know about ancient civilizations, including the ancient Greece.

Many scientists have tried to solve the mystery behind the Antikythera mechanism, and further dives into the shipwreck have been made in hopes of discovering additional pieces of the device that could shed more light on this technology. The latest attempt to reconstruct the Antikythera mechanism was made by Dr. Markos Skoulatos and finished in 2014. This copy has the exact same dimensions as the original, retaining all of its known functionality.

Today, the original Antikythera mechanism is kept at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, which is a must visit if you ever travel to Athens (along with the new Acropolis museum). The National Archaeological museum has more than 20,000 exhibits, providing a panorama of the Greek civilization from the beginnings of Prehistory to Late Antiquity.


#271 The Antikythera Mechanism

Front view of the Antikythera Mechanism.

(L-R) Maria Logogianni, director, National Archaeological Museum, Herman Viegas, chair, Lee Langston, secretary, History & Heritage Committee, Anestis Kalfas, landmark nominator, and ASME President Richard Laudenat pose with commemorative plaque following ceremony.

ASME President Richard Laudenat unveils the commemorative plaque with Maria Logogianni, director, National Archaeological Museum.

The Mechanism consisted of at least 30 gear wheels with teeth, dials, axles and pointer made of copper, thin and lead. Its small scale and use of pin-and-slot couplings revealed that Greek mechanicians of the second century B.C. were more proficient in the design of geared devices that previously suggested.

Landmark Location

National Archeological Museum
Patision 44
Athens, Greece 10682
+30 21 3214 4800


The History Behind: The Antikythera Mechanism

It was in 1900 that sponge divers made one of the most remarkable archaeological discoveries all time while diving off Point Glyphadia on the Greek island of Antikythera. 148 feet below the surface of the crisp blue Mediterranean was the wreck of a Roman cargo vessel, inside were many large ancient artefacts. There were bronze and marble statues, unique glass, jewellery and coins. These things alone would have been a fantastic find. However, in 1901, something else was found — an ancient form of a computer. It would change everything historians knew about the ability of the ancients.

It isn’t known how the Antikythera Mechanism came to be in the Roman ship, and some have speculated the item was plunder, being taken to form part of a parade by a triumphant Caesar in Rome. Some believe the device to have been the work of Hipparchus of Rhodes, though ancient sources suggest that Archimedes may have been ultimately responsible. After discovering the gears, archaeologists believed that the device was an astronomical clock. Still, it was far more complicated than that, and few thought it could ever have been built at the same time as everything else that was being pulled from the wreck. It would later be dated to around the second century BC.

Investigations into the problematic piece were dropped, the device primarily ignored and written off until 1951 when the eminent British physicist and historian of science Derek John de Solla Price became interested in what the discovery had actually been. Price and the Greek nuclear physicist Charalampos Karakalos published an extensive paper in 1974 under the title Gears from the Greeks: The Antikythera Mechanism, a Calendar Computer from c. 80 BC. The comprehensive 70-page work included x-rays and gamma-ray images of the device and laid out how it may have worked. Price was the first to conclude that the Antikythera Mechanism had been used to predict the position of planets and stars dependent on the month. He stated that the main gear would move and represented the calendar year, this, in turn, would move the smaller cogs which represented the planets, sun and moon. With the user providing input and the clockwork mechanism making a calculation to give an output, the device could legitimately be considered a basic computer.

“The mechanism is like a great astronomical clock … or like a modern analogue computer which uses mechanical parts to save tedious calculation.”

Derek J. de Solla Price, Scientific American

The mechanism had initially been recovered in a single heavily encrusted piece, soon breaking into three and, since, many more as smaller bits have fallen off through handling and cleaning. Other parts of the device were later found on the sea bed during an expedition by the famed French diver Jacques Cousteau. There are overall 83 known surviving parts with seven of those being mechanically significant. These parts contain the majority of the device’s mechanism and inscription. There are also sixteen smaller parts to the device which have incomplete engravings.

The device was encased in wood and had doors, inscriptions on the back acting as an instruction manual of sorts. Inside the device, there is a front face and a rear face, with internal clockwork gears working an adjustable mechanism controlled by a hand crank. Adjusting the device would allow the user to predict astronomical positions and solar events such as eclipses decades in advance. The 30+ gears of the machine would follow the movements of the moon and sun through the zodiac, even modelling the moon’s orbit.

Knowledge of the technology used to create the Antikythera Mechanism mechanism was lost. Despite similar devices appearing during the Islamic golden age, nothing of such complexity would be made again until the invention of the astronomical clock in the fourteenth century. However, there is evidence that the devices may not have been all that rare in Ancient Greece.

Writing in the first century BC, the famed Roman statesman Cicero mentioned two such machines that predicted the movement of celestial bodies. Cicero said that these mechanisms were built by the scientist Archimedes and brought to Rome by General Marcus Claudius Marcellus following the siege of Syracuse in 212 BC. Marcellus had taken the device with him, reportedly being saddened by the death of Archimedes whom he’d held in the highest regard. The plunder then became a family heirloom and was still in existence at the time of Cicero’s writing.

The two devices in Roman hands were said to be very different, one described as somewhat crude-looking compared to a second more ornate form. Perhaps indicating either a level of development or that unique versions of the device existed for the more affluent. The more elaborate form of the machine had been deposited at Rome’s Temple of Virtue by Marcellus. The links to Archimedes have been reinforced by later Roman writers such as Lactantius, Claudian, and Proclus. One of the last great Greek mathematicians of antiquity Pappus of Alexandria said that Archimedes had written extensively on the subject of the machines, penning a manuscript by the name of On Sphere-Making. Sadly this is now lost. Other documents do survive, however, with some even including drawings of such mechanisms and instructions on how they worked.

One of these devices was the odometer, the modern version of which is an essential component of any car dashboard. The original invention was used by the ancient Romans to place their famous mile markers alongside Roman roads. While the first descriptions of the device came from Vitruvius around 27 BC, the odometer has been attributed to Archimedes himself over 200 years prior. When scientists attempted to build the device depicted in the images, it failed to work until the shown square gears were replaced by the cogs of the type found in the Antikythera Mechanism, leading to speculation that the mechanism and Archimedes are linked.

Tying with the reports from Cicero, it seems that the Antikythera Mechanism may well have been invented by Archimedes of Syracuse. However, it could not possibly being one of the devices mentioned, with both stated to exist in Rome long after his death. Besides the two devices already highlighted, Cicero also identifies a third in production by his friend Posidonius, again, which can’t have been the artefact found in 1901. This then leads to a conclusion that the devices were not as uncommon as perhaps initially thought, with at least four known to exist and possibly many more.

The technology of Ancient Greece and Rome was seemingly lost for centuries following the conquest of Greece by Rome in 146 BC and then subsequently the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Similar technology would appear again, however, in the Byzantine Empire before flourishing in the Islamic World. In the 9th century, the Caliph of Baghdad commissioned the Banū Mūsā brothers, both noted scholars, to write the Book of Ingenious Devices, an extensive illustrated work on technical devices, amazingly including automata. The brothers were working at the legendary Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom) where Islamic scholars poured over ancient Greek and Roman texts, largely forgotten and ignored in the West. The Banū Mūsā brothers described all manner of devices that would have been considered wonders in 9th century Europe such as automatic controlling systems and feedback controllers. Other automata included fountains, musical instruments and automated cranks.

“Nothing like this instrument is preserved elsewhere. Nothing comparable to it is known from any ancient scientific text or literary allusion. It is a bit frightening, to know that just before the fall of their great civilization the ancient Greeks had come so close to our age, not only in their thought but also in their scientific technology.”

Derek J. de Solla Price

There is a tendency in the to believe that computers, automata and other modern marvels are the work solely of Britain or the United States, that our age alone is the first to see technological innovation. Yet, this is far from the truth. While much of the world was in darkness, Rome and Greece were making spectacular advances in computation and sciences such as astronomy. While Europe was fighting off Vikings, the Islamic world was deep in study, reviving these ancient technologies and adding their own modifications and advancements. Eventually, these theories of science and philosophy would drift into the West during the enlightenment, the dark ages that had covered Europe following the fall of Rome finally being overcome.

The Antikythera Mechanism stands as a symbol of what was lost with that fall and equally what might have been possible had Greece and Rome continued to thrive. The Caliphs of Baghdad knew that these ancient empires had much to tell us and that remains true even today, with much left undiscovered about the real power and technology of philosophers, thinkers and scholars such as Archimedes, Hipparchus and hundreds more besides.


  • Page 1: Introduction
  • Page 2: The Antikythera Mechanism
  • Page 3: The Pascaline And Other Early Calculators
  • Page 4: Babbage's Analytical Engine, Ada Lovelace And Programming
  • Page 5: IBM In Its Early Years
  • Page 6: The Triode, Transistor And Op-Amp
  • Page 7: Alan Turing And The COLOSSUS
  • Page 8: Claude Shannon's Master Thesis
  • Page 9: The First Electronic Digital Special-Purpose Computer
  • Page 10: Harvard Mark Ι
  • Page 11: Stibitz's Complex Number Calculator And Nordsieck's Differential Analyzer
  • Page 12: Konrad Zuse's Z Series Computers & Plankalkül Programming Language
  • Page 13: The First Bug In Computer History
  • Page 14: ENIAC And EDVAC Computers
  • Page 15: UNIVersal Automatic Computer I - UNIVAC I
  • Page 16: Big Blue Makes Its Entry In The Computer Market
  • Page 17: Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE)
  • Page 18: TX-0, DEC PDP-1, The Hacking Ethic And Other DEC Computers
  • Page 19: Cray Supercomputers
  • Page 20: The Information Technology Revolution - The First Processors (CPUs)
  • Page 21: Xerox PARC And ALTO Computer
  • Page 22: The Era Of Microcomputers: ALTAIR 8800 And Other Early Computers
  • Page 23: Apple I And II: Switching PSU And The Lack Of Cooling Fans
  • Page 24: Commodore PET And TRS-80
  • Page 25: VisiCalc's Revolution And IBM's Entrance Into The Personal Computer Market
  • Page 26: ZX SPECTRUM: The Home Computer Era Begins
  • Page 27: Commodore 64 And CP/M
  • Page 28: Amstrad 464, 664 And 6128
  • Page 29: Atari 520ST And 1040ST(F)
  • Page 30: ATARI TOS, (Mega) STE, TT And The Jaguar Gaming Console
  • Page 31: Commodore Amiga
  • Page 32: Intel 80386 And The Attack Of The Clone PCs - Acorn Archimedes
  • Page 33: NeXT Cube
  • Page 34: The First Graphics Processing Units (GPUs)
  • Page 35: The First Video Games And Game Consoles
  • Page 36: Video Games And Game Consoles Of The 1980s, 1990s And Beyond
  • Page 37: Keyboards And Mice
  • Page 38: Epilogue

In Mountain View, California, only minutes away from Google's headquarters, is the Computer History Museum. A visit to this place is enough to show you how today's computing era began and evolved through time. If you are interested in this stuff and love history in general, you can closely examine the computers that thrived in the past and opened the door for today's modern computing systems, which can be found in almost every home. It's hard to believe that only three decades ago computers were a rare thing and very few people were lucky enough (or rich enough) to actually have one at home. However, computing technology has rapidly evolved and nowadays it is rare to find a single home without a PC or a smart device that uses a processor.

Unfortunately, we won't be able to list all of the moments that defined the course of computer history, because that would require a lot more space and time instead, we will focus on the most important and interesting milestones, technologies and people that have shaped today's computing.

Our trip through computer history starts way, way back, from the earliest mechanisms that can be considered the first analog computers that man ever made. These mechanisms are true wonders given the technology levels of the civilizations of this ancient era. So before we visit the Age of Enlightenment to check on Babbage's Engine and get to know the first computer programmer recorded in history, Ada Lovelace, our time capsule will take us back thousands of years to ancient Greece. Ancient Greece hasn't only affected the modern civilization with its famous philosophers, scientists, leaders and artists, but it also marked the beginning of the computing era for mankind.


The Antikythera Mechanism: Decoding the World's First Computer

In 1900 a party of Greek sponge divers chanced on an ancient wreck near the tiny island of Antikythera, between Crete and the Greek mainland. The first ever major underwater archaeology subsequently recovered a spectacular array of ancient Greek treasure. The divers also found a corroded lump, not considered at all important at the time. Then the lump split apart revealing some tiny bronze gearwheels—a shocking discovery for ancient Greece. It was the beginning of an extraordinary voyage of discovery over more than a hundred years as its hidden identity has been gradually decoded. Tony Freeth presents the early research on the device as well as the remarkable progress of three Antikythera research pioneers—up to the point in 2005 when new scientific investigations were carried out at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

Tom Malzbender then takes up the story by describing a remarkable surface-imaging technique that he invented, which became one of the key tools for investigating the Antikythera Mechanism. He also describes Microfocus X-Ray Computed Tomography (X-Ray CT), which yields high-resolution 3D X-rays. Both techniques were crucial for understanding the Antikythera Mechanism. Tony Freeth returns to reveal the remarkable breakthroughs that came from this new data. The Antikythera Mechanism has emerged as an astronomical calculating machine of spectacular sophistication: one of the wonders of the ancient world and a key landmark in the history of computing.


Newer Technology Revealed Even More About the Antikythera Mechanism

Price's discoveries in 1959 did not stop scientists from continuing to study the Antikythera Mechanism. In the early 2000s, new technology, including 3D mapping and modern X-rays, has revealed never-before-seen inscriptions on parts of the instruments. The inscribed text, written in ancient Greek, helped them figure out how the mechanism operated.

The Antikythera Mechanism worked through one primary crank, or gear. That gear moved small orbs made of stone (or glass) across the face of the instrument. They represented the movements of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter. The gear also showed the positions of both the sun and moon relative to the 12 constellations of the zodiac predicted solar and lunar eclipses illustrated the 365-day solar calendar, as well as the lunar calendar on a 19-year cycle and depicted the phases of the moon. The device was even capable of showing when big sporting events and festivals, like the Olympics, were to be held.

The complexity of the machine is nothing short of miraculous, especially considering its accuracy. To try to better understand it, scientists have more recently tried to recreate the Antikythera Mechanism, even using the original calculations from when the device was created. The process has caused scientists and historians to second-guess all they thought they knew about ancient Greece and the civilization’s technological capabilities. How could they have possibly manufactured such an intricate machine with the technology they had?


On this day in 1902, the Antikythera Mechanism was discovered

The Antikythera mechanism, built in Greece, is the oldest mechanical ancient computer to be discovered worldwide, and was created for accurate calculations of astronomical positions.

It was discovered in the Antikythera shipwreck on the Greek island of Antikythera in a wooden box by Valerios Stais on May 17, 1902.

The importance and complexity of the mechanism was understood only a few decades after the discovery.

This advanced computer from 200 BC is currently found at the National Archeological Museum in Athens, with its mechanism, gears and inscriptions on it, forcing researchers to reconsider their view of the level of complexity of ancient Greek science. The mechanism comes in a shape of a box with a few dials on the outside and inside it has an assembly of gears similar to a mechanical clock of the eighteenth century.

After the initial discovery, 20 more gears were recovered, including a sophisticated set of gears mounted on a rotary plate acting as an epicyclic system. All of the components appear to be cut from a single sheet of bronze about 2 millimetres thick. The gears have teeth at an angle of 60 degrees and the sizes are identical which makes the wheels combine perfectly.

The Antikythera mechanism is one of the most ancient and complex scientific computers. Although its constructions without any flaws suggest that there were other mechanisms before it, these mechanisms were not discovered. Its design was made on the basis of astronomical and mathematical theories developed by Greek astronomers, somewhere between 200-100 BC. The level of miniaturisation is remarkable and the complexity of it is at the level of 18th century clocks.

The mechanism is composed from three dials. The one in front is the largest one showing 365 segments. Each segment represents a day from the Egyptian solar calendar. Inside the dial, a second circle shows the 12 signs of the zodiac. By tuning a handle (which was never found) one could position the two needles to indicate for each day of the year the exact position of the Sun and Moon with a small sphere indicating the phase of the moon.

The back of the mechanism was composed by two dials in order to guarantee its exactitude. Whatever the day and year was chosen on the front dial, one dial from the back of the mechanism shows the Metonic cycle. This indicates the lunar and solar over a period of 19 years corresponding to 235 lunar months. The second dial from the back indicates eclipses of the Sun and Moon.

Several writers from antiquity mention the existence of similar machines, but the Antikythera mechanism is the only one which has been recovered.

It was recently discovered that the Antikythera Mechanism also tracked the movements of Venus and Saturn – including when their orbit, when viewed from Earth, looked like they were travelling backwards across the sky.

“The classic astronomy of the first millennium BC originated in Babylon, but nothing in this astronomy suggested how the ancient Greeks found the highly accurate 462-year cycle for Venus and 442-year cycle for Saturn,” said PhD candidate and UCL Antikythera Research team member Aris Dacanalis.

Evidence the researchers uncovered using X-rays discovered that the mechanism, which was found in pieces, mapped the orbits of all the other planets known to the ancient Greeks too.

“After considerable struggle, we managed to match the evidence in Fragments A and D to a mechanism for Venus, which exactly models its 462-year planetary period relation, with the 63-tooth gear playing a crucial role,” said team member David Higgons.


Watch the video: Ο Μηχανισμός των Αντικυθήρων Greek - Ελληνικά, 2D (August 2022).