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Antikythera Mechanism Posted by on May 8, 2012 in Culture

Most of you know that the very first digital computer was developed between 1940 and 1945. Yes this is true, but what about the first computing machine we know today?

This is about the Antikythera mechanism (Μηχανισμός των Αντικυθήρων) which has been dated to the early 1st century BCE. This mechanism was discovered in 1900 by sponge divers (σφουγγαράδες) in a ship wreck (ναυάγιο) in the island of Antikythera. It took decades for the scientists (επιστήμονες) to understand its significance and its complexity. The mechanism (μηχανισμός) is the oldest known scientific calculator which is valued as the first analog computer.

The device is consisted of 3 main dials (one at the front and two at the back) and 32 gears which rotate about 10 axes. Its complexity and miniaturization is competitive to clocks made as late as in the 19th Century. This advanced device was able to calculate for a given date the position of the sun, the moon, the location of the planets and other astronomical information like eclipse prediction.

In 1951 theBritish science historian Derek J. de Solla Price started to study systematically (συστηματικά) the mechanism. He published (δημοσίευσε) several papers on his investigation with the most important in 1974 named “Gears from the Greeks: the Antikythera mechanism — a calendar (ημερολόγιο) computer from ca. 80 BCE” where he presented a model on how the mechanism could have functioned.

The first model of the Antikythera Mechanism was built in the 1930s by Ioannis Theofanides. After that time several models have been built based on new data. A Research team lead by professors John H. Seiradakis and Kyriakos Efstathiou is developing the most recent model of the Mechanism at the University of Thessaloniki which is based on the new results and the latest gearing diagram from the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project.

Professor Michael Edmunds of Cardiff University has said: “This device is just extraordinary, the only thing of its kind. The design is beautiful, the astronomy is exactly right. The way the mechanics are designed just makes your jaw drop. Whoever has done this has done it extremely carefully … in terms of historic and scarcity value, I have to regard this mechanism as being more valuable than the Mona Lisa”.

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