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Hublot painstakingly recreates a mysterious, 2,100-year-old clockwork relic - but why?

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November 16, 2011

Hublot's miniature replica of the Antikythera mechanism

Hublot's miniature replica of the Antikythera mechanism

Image Gallery (18 images)

Why on Earth would you want to strap one of these to your wrist? It barely tells the time, and it can't take pictures, tweet or connect to your Facebook. In fact, very few people would have the faintest idea what it is, or why you'd want one at all. But for those that do recognize its intricate gears and dials, this tiny, complex piece of machinery tells a vivid and incredible tale. It's a story of gigantic scientific upheaval, of adventure and shipwreck on the high seas, of war and death. A story of amazing intellect, lost riches and impossible chance - a sunken treasure that Jaques Cousteau once described as "more valuable than the Mona Lisa" - and it's connected with an ancient celebrity whose star shone so brightly that he's still a household name more than 2200 years after his death... Read on!

A chance discovery

The study of history is the study of fragments, the piecing together of tiny snippets of evidence and the weighing of that evidence against whatever writings have been passed down from the era in question. Nothing can be trusted, everything must be dissected. Every writer and historian has his own inbuilt bias, every hand-copied transcription of a manuscript offers a chance for error and revision. And the further back in time you go, the more corrupted your evidence becomes - by human interference, by age, fire, water, rust.

Still, historians and scientists alike live for the great "Eureka" moments, where some newly discovered fact can turn our understanding on its head and lead to a richer picture of our world and our species.

And there are few scientific or historic discoveries more significant than the one made by a Greek sponge diver in October 1900, on the Mediterranean sea bed.

Captain Kondos' ship

Returning to Greece from a diving expedition around Northern Africa, Captain Dimitrios Kondos ran into some wild weather to the north of Crete, and decided to shelter from the storm near the small island of Antikythera. While things above the surface were pretty unpleasant, Kondos sent a team down to see if they might be able to pick up any more sponges while they waited for the storm to pass.

Within a short time, diver Elias Stadiatos resurfaced, raving like a lunatic. He reported finding a shipwreck on the sea bed 60 meters (197 feet) below, with hundreds of corpses and horses strewn about, in various stages of decay. The Captain thought Stadiatos had flipped his lid due to excessive carbon dioxide poisoning, so he pulled on his canvas diving suit and copper bell helmet and went down to take a look himself.

Far from a stack of corpses, what Kondos found made his sponge gathering mission pale in comparison. A sunken ancient vessel, loaded with all kinds of loot and treasure. What Stadiatos had reported as rotting bodies were actually bronze statues that had been covered over by centuries' worth of sea floor debris.

The team scavenged what they could carry and took it back to Greece, where the Greek Education Ministry and Hellenic Navy quickly put together an expedition to explore the wreck more thoroughly. Early indications were that the material on board dated back more than 2,000 years, into the fascinating historical period of the Roman Republic.

Archaeological teams preparing to dive on the Antikythera wreckage

Over the next two years, painstaking underwater archaeological efforts uncovered a vast bounty of marble and bronze statues, coins, and other artifacts that seemed to suggest the ship had sunk while carrying back a booty haul from a war sometime in the first hundred years B.C. In fact, the current closest guess is that it was one of the Roman Dictator Sulla's vessels, on the way back to Italy after taking care of business abroad.

The collection itself was a celebrated find, but one anonymous chunk of rock sitting in a storage room had further riches to offer, when it broke apart and a caretaker noticed metallic gears within ...

The main fragment of the Antikythera machine

The Antikythera mechanism

Historians at the time largely ignored the device for one simple reason - the technology required to make such complex metallic gear systems simply didn't exist back in 100 B.C. It appeared to have an epicyclic, or planetary gear system in it - and those hadn't popped up anywhere else in history for another 1900 years or so. It was assumed that the machine had been misplaced, accidentally left with the wreckage, or wrongly cataloged, so it was shelved for another 49 years, until an English physicist called Derek Price decided to have a closer look in 1951.

With better technology and plenty of time at hand, Price soon realized that this was indeed an ancient device - in fact, there was some kind of instructive script carved into it, faded almost to obscurity, that put it right in the 100-300 B.C. period. This was a true Eureka moment - it put amazingly advanced technology in the hands of the Ancient Greeks.

A fragment of the Antikythera machine

In fact, it instantly became not only the world's earliest known use of planetary gears, but the first known mechanism that used clockwork gears at all. Various civilizations earlier than the Ancient Greeks had used wooden peg-in-hole gear systems to transfer motion, but this was an order of magnitude more complex than anything before it, and indeed anything for a millennium and a half after it.

It was such a technological leap that no doubt the "History" channel has already run a series of "documentaries" showing how it was built by aliens.

But what on earth was it?

There began a painstaking scientific examination of every available fragment of this ancient machine - there were 82 pieces in total - over the course of the next 50 years. As technology improved, it was applied to the fragments of what had become known as the Antikythera mechanism.

Advanced photography techniques were employed by Hewlett-Packard in 2005 to produce a clearer image of the carved inscriptions, allowing researchers to decipher and translate 95 percent of the existing text. Then a company called X-Tech shipped an eight-tonne (8.8-ton) X-ray tomography machine to Athens to produce incredibly detailed, high resolution 3D X-ray scans of every fragment of the machine.

Analyzing this new information gave a huge amount of insight into the Antikythera device, how it was built and what it was for.

A reconstruction showing what the original Antikythera machine may have looked like in its...

As it turned out, the device's chief function was more or less an intellectual novelty. Turning a single input knob, you could select a date, and the machine would predict (with incredible accuracy) the positions of the sun, moon and the five planets that Greek astronomers had identified by that stage.

It would also tell you the phase of the moon, using a spherical indicator that rotated to approximate the lunar phase. Dials on the back predicted certain solar eclipses to within a couple of hours, dates for calendar adjustments, and the Calyppic cycle, which was most likely used to show when the next Olympic games would be held. The device was so accurate that it was able to account for leap years, an idea that didn't appear anywhere else in history for another 100 years.

As a device that could take a user input and then produce a variety of calculated data from it, the Antikythera mechanism now became the world's earliest known analogue computer. Eureka!

A working replica of the Antikythera mechanism

Needless to say, in order to produce a machine like this, the makers would have needed access to centuries' worth of astronomical data, as well as at least one brilliant mathematical mind to take those numbers and turn them into precisely sized cogs in a mechanical design. As it happened, one of the greatest mathematicians of all time lived in the area the machine had most likely been built in.

The Archimedes connection

This machine, that had been the source of so many "Eureka" moments for modern scientists, may have been designed, or at least partially designed, by the man who had the most famous "Eureka" moment in history.

Sculpture of Archimedes, the great mathematician

Archimedes lived in Syracuse, Greece, between 287 B.C. and his tragic and surely avoidable murder in 212 B.C. History records him as the greatest mathematical mind of pre-modern times, and the list of his discoveries and contributions to maths and science is enormous. Youngsters today will most probably know him best from the story of how he sat in the bath, noticed how much water he was displacing, and came up with the theory of hydrostatics, or the time he worked out how to use underwater scales to determine the density of an object. The latter was another bathtime observation - one that got him so excited that he ran down the street buck naked yelling "Eureka!" at the top of his lungs.

Archimedes, pictured discovering hydrostatics

He was also a genius designer, building the first odometer for wagons, a heat ray capable of sinking ships with concentrated sunlight, a bilge pump design that's still in use today, a number of large sea vessels, and a large body of work around levers - including a device that was said to be able to lift enemy ships up out of the sea and flip them over.

His work was widely renowned at the time, and Pappus of Alexandra writes of a paper Archimedes wrote on the design of intricately geared planetary systems to replicate the movements of heavenly bodies, many decades before the Antikythera device was built. The paper is lost to history, but it's believed that Archimedes went on to build multiple prototypes of a machine extremely similar to the surviving relic.

In fact, Cicero's fictionalized De Republica, a book written in the first century B.C., tells a story of Archimedes bringing a "celestial globe" machine to Rome's Temple of Virtue and demonstrating to a stunned audience how it could describe the movements of the sun, moon, and the five planets. It could also predict solar eclipses and the lunar phases. The parallels are incredibly striking.

Portrait of Archimedes, the great mathematician

It's almost certain that Archimedes wasn't the builder of the Antikythera mechanism - he died some 80 years or more before the machine is believed to have been built. But it's quite probable that he created the early prototypes from which the Antikythera machine was developed - prototypes forever lost in the mists of time, probably melted down for their bronze by unknowing invaders, just like Archimedes himself was murdered by a Roman soldier, ignorant of his importance.

The machine itself, or what's left of it, is an indelible bridge between the undeniably brilliant minds of ancient times and the modern world. If it hadn't sunk to the bottom of the ocean 2000 years ago, it would probably be lost like the rest of its brethren. The fact that we found it, and have been able to decipher the incredible messages it carries, is nothing short of a miracle.

Which brings us to the watch

Hublot's miniature replica of the Antikythera mechanism

As the world's first analogue computer, the Antikythera machine has spawned a number of painstakingly constructed replicas over the years - one of our favorites was even made in Lego.

A working replica of the Antikythera mechanism

But such a sophisticated piece of machinery, with such a deep history, is bound to resonate most strongly with those who understand it most intimately. It's no surprise that Hublot's master watchmakers, with their intricate and innate understanding of the mechanics of gearing and precision, would see the Antikythera mechanism for what it was - a very compact clockwork device some thousand years younger than the first mechanical clocks - which were absolutely enormous.

It's easy to see how a watchmaker could take this device as a kind of challenge across the millennia ... and that's how we arrive at this: Hublot's own working replica of the Antikythera mechanism, scaled down from shoebox size to wristwatch size, and with a built in clock circuit so it can tell the time as well as make its astronomical predictions.

Hublot's miniature replica of the Antikythera mechanism

In making it, Hublot's engineers encountered issues they have never had to deal with in traditional watchmaking - in particular, the non-linear gearings used to simulate elliptical patterns in the solar system.

Check out Hublot's video about the inspiration behind this watch and the unique challenges in building it:

The watch is a concept piece only, and will be presented at the Baselworld watch show in 2012. It's a lovely piece of work, a wonderful homage to the brilliance of our 22 century-old ancestors - and a bloody good excuse to write a thinly veiled history piece for Gizmag. I hope you've enjoyed it!

About the Author
Loz Blain Loz has been one of Gizmag's most versatile contributors since 2007. Joining the team as a motorcycle specialist, he has since covered everything from medical and military technology to aeronautics, music gear and historical artefacts. Since 2010 he's branched out into photography, video and audio production, and he remains the only Gizmag contributor willing to put his name to a sex toy review. A singer by night, he's often on the road with his a cappella band Suade.   All articles by Loz Blain
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58 Comments

Absolutely loved it :)

Well done!

Tony Smale
16th November, 2011 @ 03:11 pm PST

http://www.unmuseum.org/atlantis.htm

I guess this may be the first artifact from the the Lost Continent of Atlantis?

Off the coast of Spain. For only they would have been able to build such

a device. Maybe more are there? But, why found in a locker? A souvenir?

Something picked up on a different trip? A sailor's token? The Captain's

locker? I would search off the coast of Spain for more answers.

Robert Burke
16th November, 2011 @ 04:31 pm PST

Fabulous article, thanks. More like it would be appreciated!

Kingsfield58
16th November, 2011 @ 05:31 pm PST

Why the need to invoke the legend of Atlantis? As the story says, Archimedes almost certainly created the base prototypes for this and some student of his continued the work.

No need for aliens or magic and mysticism. Humans are entirely capable of the mathematics and observation required for this device. The only real difference between us and the people of 2,000 years ago is the technology built, not the brains required to build it. Do you think in 2,000 years time some person will say "Oh, the internet must have been created by aliens visiting, having returned after building the Antikythera on Atlantis."?

Scion
16th November, 2011 @ 07:01 pm PST

Absolutely brilliant! Wow, Genius + Mathematics + Skill = Masterpiece.

We common people may not be able to afford this mechanical wonder if and when it goes into production. Is it possible that some bright minds might be able to create a program that can duplicate this and put it as an app for the smartphone? I know it won't anywhere close to a mechanical wonder but more people might be able to appreciate the beauty of the thing and its movements? Yes, it would be grate if it could be viewed in layers and all the mechanical movements of the gears simulated. That way the mechanical genius can be appreciated.

Nantha
16th November, 2011 @ 09:50 pm PST

Nice work Loz.

Beautifully presented :)

Matrix Key Systems
16th November, 2011 @ 10:13 pm PST

Astonishing!

And yes, an app portraying it on 3D would be VERY nice...

Edgar Castelo
17th November, 2011 @ 12:46 am PST

Great article and coverage of the subject matter.

The comments about Atlantis are unnecessary! if Robert Burke bothered to look into the Antikythira machine properly he would have found out that later research with more advanced 3D tomography revealed that the mechanism gears have GREEK Inscriptions on them.

Now if this means Atlantis was also GREEK, then I am OK with it.

SocratesV
17th November, 2011 @ 12:53 am PST

now here is something worth doing. i would love to have that freaking watch more than anything.....

Bill Kelsey
17th November, 2011 @ 01:34 am PST

Yes, a great piece thanks!!

Chris Hornby
17th November, 2011 @ 03:20 am PST

Syracuse is in Sicily, not Greece, though it was certainly part of the Greek world at the time.

Nick 1801
17th November, 2011 @ 03:29 am PST

amazing, even enthralling story.Thanks a lot for this very interesting article

robinyatesuk2003
17th November, 2011 @ 03:30 am PST

Wonderful article! Loz, you are indeed a polymath, and an entertaining one at that. Great read.

Russ Pinney
17th November, 2011 @ 04:18 am PST

The article is beautiful, the technology unbelievable. Who knows what else was known in the ancient world, 2000 thousand and more years ago. Even the pyramids are actually a lot older. I wish I could go back, move beyond stereotypes and into the present reality of everyday Greek lives.

Dawar Saify
17th November, 2011 @ 04:41 am PST

It could have been an artifact that fell off a boat in the 1800's

and landed near that wreck. Has it been carbon dated?

Jamie-Lill
17th November, 2011 @ 05:03 am PST

Very interesting. Thanks for the article, another interesting thing to read about on the internet.

"It was such a technological leap that no doubt the "History" channel has already run a series of "documentaries" showing how it was built by aliens"

Well said!

Captain Danger
17th November, 2011 @ 05:06 am PST

Entertaining article - you could also write for The Fortean Times.

Thunderbird4
17th November, 2011 @ 05:40 am PST

FASCINATING!

Estacio Ferreira Ramos
17th November, 2011 @ 05:52 am PST

Great article. What a fascinating story.

Andrew Jacks
17th November, 2011 @ 05:59 am PST

I'm in agreement with everyone, excellent article! I loved the poke at the History Channel as well, very nice.

scott.j.trapp
17th November, 2011 @ 06:37 am PST

One of the most interesting articles I have read to date - well done! Always interesting to see what people knew in the past. It is clear that we continuously underestimate the levels of knowledge that existed thousands of years ago. This will continue to happen as we find more evidence of this type!

scotteo
17th November, 2011 @ 07:12 am PST

Really loved this article as well!

I have always wondered if whether yesterdays genius or mass murderers were induced with third party influence?. When I say third-party, I mean say a subconscious guide. Why can't spirits be intellectual and idiots at point of contact?. Mind you, this does suggest that we are all of the same state of intelligence at raw source ... hhhmmm?, saying that, their is some serious stupidity around these days, that has surely won such manopoly with avengence!

Just last week at 10pm at the airport i saw a teenager flying out to Ibiza wearing darkened sunglasses! And I thought, firstly its pitch dark outside, and do they realise that Ibiza is one hour a head, hence, even darker!?! Then again, if I think about it? ... maybe, they had this analogue device above, and know theirs going to be a solar eclipse by the time they landed???

He hE ...LOL! ; )

Harpal Sahota
17th November, 2011 @ 08:11 am PST

I want one as a picketwatch - can i get it done by my birthday ( march 15)?

Kevin Smith
17th November, 2011 @ 08:21 am PST

INCREDIBLE article,

Thanks so much. Enjoyed the "History Channel" dig as well ;-)

First learned of the Antikythera device on Wikipedia a few years back, but your article is far more enjoyable, and has far more interesting "related" content, such as the story of the Greek divers that found the wreck in 1900.

As you imply, I wonder where our world might be today if we'd spent all our energies over the past 4,000 years entirely on peaceful trade and exchange, rather than so much on winless wars?

AWAbooks
17th November, 2011 @ 10:50 am PST

Thank you for writing this fascinating piece. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it all. Lifting technology well above the many articles about new ipod doodads.

Paul van Dinther
17th November, 2011 @ 11:15 am PST

It fell out of the pocket of a time traveler - who was changing the course of history.

In 2038 Skynet became self aware and .......

Actually technologically - if your capable of designing buildings like the "Acropolis Now" using tapered columns and making pretty exact measurements, using only basic tradesman tools...

It's actually not that big a leap into these kinds of instruments - Tracking the movements of the stars and sun and all, is the big issue with keeping accurate records - the rest of it is just nutting out the gear ratios, making some brass sheet and filing away the teeth - with some kind of indexing system, and some kind of metal working lathe.

Brass or bronze is relatively easy to machine, and hard iron cutters - from stone cutting tech - those industries would have been established for a long time, so would jewelery making, wire making, armor and the education with maths, science etc., etc...

So this is not really a case of high tech, more a case of astute observation and record keeping of the celestial movements and utilising the smarts of the already established industries to make it.

Mr Stiffy
17th November, 2011 @ 11:44 am PST

So it wasn't Kepler who first realised that the planets move in elliptical orbits instead of circular ones, or Copernicus who came up with the idea that took the Earth out of the center of the universe. The apparent fact this knowledge existed before the common era changes our history quite a bit, it seems.

I'd love to see more of this type of article here, good job!

bas
17th November, 2011 @ 03:12 pm PST

thanks for this great article; so much for the flatlanders mentality - I will include this reference to the millennia in my book (with appropriate credit of course) - Respect for others

"Give me a place to stand, and I will move the world." - Archimedes

As we round out these millennial jubilees; thanks to Gizmag for incredible insights and hard investigative reporting into truly wonderful and extremely important developments.

Keith Scharding
17th November, 2011 @ 03:26 pm PST

Excellent and intriguing article - more of the same, please...

Nick Herbert
17th November, 2011 @ 05:00 pm PST

An exceptional article. We are reminded of how knowledge can be lost for eons. And how it was that one of the greatest minds of all time, Archimedes, was murdered by a Roman soldier who probably returned home to be celebrated, as soldiers are celebrated all over the world, in all ages. As long as war and "law and order" are used to justify atrocities, humanity cannot call itself civilized. As long as empires exist science and technology will be used more for destruction than creation.

voluntaryist
17th November, 2011 @ 05:45 pm PST

The author said, "the device's chief function was more or less an intellectual novelty" in effect a toy. If the author had ever contemplated doing celestial navigation the incredible value of the device would have ben clear to him. In less than ideal weather you often can see only a few of the brightest objects and only those in a small portion of the sky. When you may not have had a clear view of the sky for weeks knowing what the sky should look like is the difference between life and death. If you don't know the identity of the only object you can see, taking a sighting is worthless. This device was as revolutionarily and useful at the time as GPS is to day.

Dominic From NASA
17th November, 2011 @ 07:10 pm PST

I read this as saying that errors would have crept into the model as compared with modern calculations so that the watch would need a modern update to be accurate with current events. The original mechanism is tied to its epoch, 70 BCE, not with ours. Besides free programs that run on the smallest PC do better, and there are PC's that could fit in a wristwatch, so a smartphone app would give better results.

Bruce Salem
17th November, 2011 @ 10:39 pm PST

Amazing...we could do with this fella sorting out the economics of today. He certainly could do no worse. Great article.

Didgeman
17th November, 2011 @ 11:20 pm PST

The mechanism replicates the motions of the planets as well today as it ever did. The only adjustment needed is to change the relative phasing of the hands to the background stars. It is able to track the locations of the planets for a few hundred years at a time. You can set it to work in any epoch you want by changing only the positions of the hands. This is the same as the adjustment of todays watches to get the days of the week in correct phase with the days of the months.

Some of the stars have moved a small amount relative to the others as well. This is only a change in the labels on the faces.

By the way, the economic of today are no big deal, it is very well understood by economist. The only problem is that the politicians are lying about what to do to make things better because the rich people that pay for the reelection complains want it be this way.

Dominic From NASA
18th November, 2011 @ 01:39 am PST

I'm not particularly possessive, but I'd love to put this watch on my wrist as a homage to one of the greatest minds that ever lived - Archimedes. Agreed, the mechanism has not been proven to originate with his models, but the attribution is not implausible. Imagine where our level of scientific knowledge would be now if the Weltanschauung of Late Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance had been based on the work of Archimedes and predecessors like Aristarchos and Eratosthenes, rather than the Bible, Platon, Aristoteles and Ptolemaios !...

Henri

mhenriday
18th November, 2011 @ 07:50 am PST

Thank you! Great article, which makes me wonder once again, where our world would be today had Rome never fallen to barbarian hordes and so much knowledge lost.

yrag
18th November, 2011 @ 10:32 am PST

yrag, I think you meant if GREECE had never fallen. Credit where deserved.

Include Rome with the barbarians.

eDave
19th November, 2011 @ 08:55 am PST

yrag: Rome did not fall because of barbarians. It self-destructed. Just as the global economy is doing today and for the same reason: government. One-world government or many governments, the result is the same: authoritarianism is anti-life, and ultimately self destructive, even if it takes two centuries (which is the average life time for empires). Of course, governments exist with the sanction of their victims, which is why I call it: self destruction. Even Roman citizens kept paying their taxes and supporting the idea of government even as they perished. And future generations learned nothing. Collective insanity? No, collective ignorance. Our professional philosophers had failed us. They failed to give us an ethical code until the middle 20th century. It hasn't caught on yet. Will Ayn Rand's enlightened self interest ethical system be adopted?

voluntaryist
19th November, 2011 @ 07:52 pm PST

I must say - great article and the comments alike.))

Renārs Grebežs
20th November, 2011 @ 04:36 am PST

Great great article, thanks!

Zoso
20th November, 2011 @ 11:46 pm PST

yrag: "Rome did not fall because of barbarians. It self-destructed. Just as the global economy is doing today... the result is the same: authoritarianism is anti-life, and ultimately self destructive..., I call it self destruction.... future generations learned nothing. Collective insanity? No, collective ignorance".

Excellent. voluntaryist - November 19, 2011 @ 07:52 pm PST, you are right. But: "Will Ayn Rand's enlightened self interest ethical system be adopted?"

No, no, no! My Dears! Nothing will save us except knowledge, science and reality-based thinking. And then only if we will create the new thinking Einstein wrote about:

"Thinking which created our problems can't solve them. Completely new thinking will be necessary".

Imants Vilks

Imants Vilks
21st November, 2011 @ 02:41 am PST

It was a time machine,

of course!

All watches and clocks are,

if you think about it in a literal sort of way!

As for title's inquiry as to the purpose of the wrist trinket,

the exotic bauble watch market is a multi-BILLION dollar industry.

I kid you not.

That's why they built it-

industrial ego is at stake here regarding

egotistical industrialists

...with industrial strength egos!

As for the artisans who actually crafted it,

I'd like to think it was about passion and not profit.

Griffin
24th November, 2011 @ 12:24 am PST

Great article. Great comments. Also note the reference about the "spherical earth"

The idea of a spherical earth was known to ancient Greeks, yet the credit goes to Galileo, Magellan and Christopher Colombus, 2000 years later.

Moreover, Eratosthenis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eratosthenes) calculated the circumference of Earth with *** a 2% error ***

The same goes with Kepler's laws, since Pythagoras had discovered them 2000 years before.

It makes me sad, as a Greek not to see credit given where it's appropriate, because of some western scholars and their hypocrisy.

It's **collective ignorance** as mentioned in the comment before mine. Obviously this situation is beneficial for afew, what do the rest of us do?

hyperspaced
24th November, 2011 @ 04:02 am PST

Once you start looking at this device in detail, it is absolutely stunning that the Greeks, in around 160BC and earlier, managed to figure out some of the details from the Babylonian observations of the previous few hundred years. Having built a functional replica for one of the NatGeo programs that was aired earlier this year (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mad-Systems/139370316104746), I found the thought process behind the mechanism absolutely amazing. It simply is not the type of thing that you just sit down and build - and what fascinates me is the thought that somewhere there are earlier and possibly later varieties of this computer that might be even more amazing (and better preserved) than this one. As for it being a "computer" - if you look at the early mechanical computers that were around over the past 50 years or so I think you will find that not only it qualifies, but it is also a pretty sophisticated example. I for one would love to have a copy of the Hublot mechanism, although I do rather assume that it would not be an affordable item... as to why they would make it? Maybe just because the challenge was there. That was, after all, the main reason why we made ours....

M
24th November, 2011 @ 10:39 pm PST

All this knowlege was lost when the Christens burnt the libary and killed all the great minds in 350AD in Alexandria.It took a 1000 years to recover and still the christen and Islamic religions try to hold back knowlege with creationism. A great feat to reproduce it.

Brian Lawther
28th November, 2011 @ 04:03 pm PST

I've been fascinated by this machine since I first read mention of it years ago, and have followed the progress of understanding it as techniques to see inside the corroded parts got steadily more detailed. An extraordinary piece of kit, and a comment on how far we slipped back during the Roman era, and the Dark Ages that followed. The Greeks, and others had a tremendous depth of knowledge, a serious examination of their technology reveals many devices, such as the screw, or steam engines, that they were already familiar with.

As to the loss of the library/libraries at Alexandria, many have been blamed for that negligence, including various caesars, the Roman bishop Theophilus, and the Muslims. I guess we will never know the truth about that one. Oh, and much early European scientific knowledge took place in monasteries by, undertaken by Christian or Muslim scholars, although some of what it said was unpopular with the leaders!

PeeCeeBee
11th December, 2011 @ 04:06 am PST

It can clearly compute tides. A very useful device.

Frank Meriwether
23rd March, 2012 @ 08:57 am PDT

Great article Loz. Fascinating.

AustraliaHouses
24th March, 2012 @ 11:15 pm PDT

There is another story behind this one. The recent research that has revealed the full functionality of the machine was made possible by a UK X-Ray company X-Tek Systems. X-Tek had to design a high energy microfocus source specifically for this project. This was inspired by the genius engineer owner of X-Tek, one Roger Hadland who committed massive resources to the project.

Ian Haig
5th April, 2012 @ 10:53 pm PDT

this astounding machine has been extensively discussed in terms of Greek cosmic knowledge and mathematical sophistication. But how was it actually manufactured? The accuracy needed to cut the gear teeth is way beyond our normal assessment of the classical world and implies the existence of precision tools: at the very least accurately shaped files, cutting tools, and something like a dividing head and a model engineer's lathe. Incredible.

Duncan Hutchinson
11th May, 2012 @ 05:21 am PDT

Fascinating.

Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.

Archimedes

kellory
13th May, 2012 @ 10:24 pm PDT

Thank you for this fascinating article!

Whatever
4th July, 2012 @ 08:43 am PDT

Don't think the aliens built this one but they clearly did build the Lego version.

escher7
4th September, 2012 @ 02:34 am PDT

Regarding the faceplate on the wristwatch, the designers probably annoy some folks by abusing the Greek alphabet -- they've substituted many Latin letters for the 12 months with Greek letters based on letter shapes and not sound:

Latin Greek Sound

J Iota I

A Lambda L

N Pi P

Y Psi Ps

F Gamma G

E Sigma S

I Phi Ph

O Theta Th

Also, they've replaced letter "U" with "V", which is a Roman thing ...

[I hope this site accepts tabs for column alignment.]

Oahu Hawaii
12th January, 2013 @ 09:31 am PST

The function of this device was not well understood at the time this article was written, in 2011. It is now believed that its real purpose was to predict, with stunning accuracy, eclipses of the sun and the moon for use by the military. That is, it was a computing almanac. Not only was the date predicted, but the type of eclipse and thus the resulting color of the moon during the eclipse. The ability to show the position of the heavenly bodies was just a "sub-calculation", if you will, of the devices overall function.

This was not in the least an "intellectual novelty" as described in this article, and given the resources needed to construct it at the time, you would not expect it to be. In 100BC, and much later as well, it was of strategic military importance to be able to predict eclipses because they were believed to be caused by the gods - so an eclipse did not bode well for invading and pillaging. It is now thought this most advanced technology was developed for the military. Sound familiar?

The foreknowledge of eclipses was valuable then, and far into the future. Christopher Columbus used his almanac to predict a lunar eclipse and trick the native people into thinking he could control the "return" of the moon. It worked and saved his butt when he was shipwrecked in Jamaica 1400 years after the Antikythera mechanism was built, on his fourth trip to the "New World' in 1503.

The most fascinating part of this for me was not what the machine did, but how it did it. 2000 years before Babbage and Von Neumann, we had people designing full fledged computing machines in brass rather than silicon. Amazing stuff.

The recent research was explained in a recent episode of NOVA on PBS that was called "Ancient Computer" It aired on April 3, 2013. I think it's available on DVD now, or look for it in reruns. It's well worth a look.

Mark Lewus
27th May, 2013 @ 10:06 pm PDT

Absolutely an astrologer's masterpiece. If someone were to say they were just a determined mathematician, then I would have to say that person is mistaken. By the estimated time the measurements needed for the equations to balance out the timing didn't exist back then. In fact such a tedious, and time consumption just studying the sky for the device would have made any person would immediately quit. Only someone with enough passion to feed their curiosity could handle putting everything into their workmanship. The next thing I want to point out is my theory and how something so ahead of it time came about. First if you notice that original design is presentable as child's music box(even though that wasn't invent until way) this design must have also took a lot of craftsmanship. Another thing is the cogs and gears needed would have been hard to find, and handed forge would have been expensive. The project would have taken any time spent to earn money. So personally I think that it was just one person but two. One person of mathematics and astronomy and another purely skilled artisan. So the two talented people most like lived in the beginning of roman empire( based off the rotary hand mill which looks a lot like the windup handle) but when they wanted to show there invention to the world, nobody believed them, so the traveled but they must likely sunk without light houses existing.

TheExpeditionistKID
15th July, 2013 @ 09:45 pm PDT

Loved this article , I would love to have one of the watchs .

randomray
21st October, 2013 @ 03:49 pm PDT

"... see the Antikythera mechanism for what it was - a very compact clockwork device some thousand years younger than the first mechanical clocks"

Didn't you mean "older" rather than "younger"?

Other than that, awesome article on this device, which held my fascination since I was a teenager.

quax
6th May, 2014 @ 10:28 am PDT
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