In the last Nugget I shared with you some of the detail involved in the Antikythera Mechanism, an instrument made around (circa) 120 BC and yet so complex that it has taken a team of international experts years to piece together in order to figure out what it is and how it worked. It reportedly is the first “calculating machine” (calculator) or as some have described it, the world’s first analogue computer. So complex that following its discovery in 1901 by sponge divers off the island of Antikythera, a team have been working on figuring out what it calculates and how it was put together. If you are coming upon this “Mechanism” for the first time I suggest that you look at the Nugget from last week to read my introduction to this remarkable instrument. I have set this discovery in the context of our worldview that persuades us to think of the ancients as slow-witted and unintelligent. That we 21st Century creatures are the epitome of human development, outstripping our ancestors by light years. It ain’t necessarily so.
The Customary Cosmological Order (CCO)
Don’t let me deceive you into thinking this is the restored Mechanism. Far from it. You saw a photo of the mechanism in the previous Nugget when it was found. The photo above shows you what the team have built following the research they have done on the original mechanism and after years of ultra sound testing and investigation into how this computational machine works. What astounds me are the lengths the team have gone to investigate this ancient device in order to unlock its secrets. It is a testimony both to the ingenuity of the ancients in building such a device and to the technology and skill of the moderns in deciphering the device and reconstituting it.
This really is remarkable research carried out by Derek de Sola Price and Michael Wright as the leading researchers in the first instance. Then added to by the six members of the International team since 2005. That team is made up of Tony Freeth, David Higgon, Aris Dacanalis, Lindsay MacDonald, Myrto Georgakopoulou and Adam Wojcik along with many others since the discovery in 1901 as well as all the theories of the ancients too numerous to mention. What is most impressive is the accumulation of knowledge related to the Mechanism since it was first analysed by tomography in 2005. In that time the researchers have combined the knowledge of Egyptian, Babylonian and Greek cosmology:
- cracked the inbuilt encoding in the Antikythera Mechanism
- utilising the Corinthian, Babylonian and Egyptian Calendars
- added the cycles determined by Parmenides, Callippus, Meton (Corinthian Calendar)
observed the inclusion of:
- the Saros cycle every 18 years, 11 days and 8 hours
- the Exeligmos cycle every 54 years and 33 days
- the phases of the constellations (Zodiac cycle)
and used it all to come up with a mechanism to calculate the movements and events of the then known Cosmos. These Cosmological events were then combined with the human requirements to predict various things, including the phases of sun and moon, the cycle of the Zodiac and the cyclic occurrence of the Pan Hellenic Games. [I learned of a fifth set of Games to be added to the Panhellenic Games in the form of the Naian Games through these researchers. (See the Running the Race of Life Gem series).]
All of the above was combined in layers of calibrated wheels:
An example of an Original Disk (wheel) from the Mechanism
which then resulted in these features
The Front Face of the Antikythera Mechanism
Referring to The Front View of The Antikythera Mechanism (Figure 7)
- In the centre, the dome of the Earth, the phase of the Moon and its position in the Zodiac
- The rings for Mercury, Venus, true Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Date, with “little sphere” markers by minute gemstones and smaller markers for oppositions.
- Scale marks and index letters for the synodic cycles of the planets are inscribed on the planet rings.
- Surrounding these, the Zodiac and the Egyptian Calendar. The true Sun ring has a “little golden sphere” with “pointer”. When the Moon and Sun pointers coincide, the Moon sphere shows black for New Moon; when the pointers are on opposite sides, the Moon sphere shows white for Full Moon.
- The Head of the Dragon Hand shows the ascending lunar node; the Tail the descending node.
- Small triangles on the true Sun ring, near the pointer, show wider and narrower eclipse limits. Eclipses are possible if the Dragon Hand is within these limits.
- When the Moon pointer is before the Head of the Dragon, the Moon is South of the node; after, it is North of the node—conversely for the descending node.
- A Date pointer is attached to a narrow date ring, showing the date in the Egyptian calendar.
The rotation of the handle enabled the selection of a date on the front scale of 365 days, the remaining indicators give us all available astronomical information thereon (e.g. position and phase of the moon, matching of solar-lunar calendar, etc.). Conversely, if the operator of the mechanism brought the indicator to some particular astronomical or calendar events (e.g. an eclipse of the moon or a staging of one of the Panhellenic Games), the date (even the hour) could be seen for when this would happen in the future or had happened in the past.
The resultant 3D model of the Universe (at least of the Sun and the five known planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn along with the Earth and it’s Moon) was a work of pure ancient genius given the comparison between the knowledge of the Cosmos then and now. Because of the loss of evidence of a significant percentage of the Antikythera Mechanism, the researchers cannot claim that their model is a replica of the original. But the logic of their solution indicates it is a match to the existing evidence and a fair educated guess to what was lost. The Antikythera Mechanism was a computational instrument for mathematical astronomy, incorporating cycles from Babylonian and the Greek astronomy. It calculated the ecliptic longitudes of the Moon, Sun and planets, the phases of the Moon; the synodic phases of the planets; eclipses, the heliacal risings and settings of prominent stars and constellations; as well as the cycle for the Panhellenic Games and the phases of the Zodiac.
It is the first known device that mechanised the predictions of scientific theories and it could have automated many of the calculations needed for its own design. It was a superb piece of ancient engineering developed into a device of genius. It challenges all our preconceptions about the technological capabilities of the ancient Greeks. What absolutely astounds me is that given the paucity of technological and observational assistance back in 120 BC, the astronomers of the day had observed the precision of the Saros and Exeligmos cycles. There is another aspect to all this which I will follow up in the last Nugget in this series on The Antikythera Mechanism.
It leaves me astounded at the revealed brilliance of the Antikythera Mechanism and seriously questioning the story we have been told on the basis of evolutionary theory.
Watch out for the last Nugget in this series of three on The Antikythera Mechanism next week.