During the second century BC, a Roman ship carrying Greek artifacts met with its destiny while sailing through the rocky passages of Antikythera waters. Almost, after two thousand years, this ship wreckage opened the modern man a gateway to witness a technology developed then, which was way ahead of its times that even after a millennium since then such an advancement cannot be made.
In 1900, a group of sponge divers found some rare bronze materials including a broken arm -which is believed to be that of a philosopher – deep in the ocean floor. Along those artifacts is a technological piece of marvel that inspired the awe of modern day intellectualism. The 20 cm high bronze apparatus has been lying in the ocean floor for nearly 2 millennium only to claim its due credit as the world’s first computer developed in the human history.
Humans have always studied the sky above and made their predictions and conclusions which had helped men who traversed this earth later in understanding the universe better. But, little would have he thought that the ancient expertise would create an apparatus that can automatically show the positions of earth, the sun, the moon and predict eclipses, precisely as it would have been today after two thousand years. The Antikythera mechanism, named after the place of ship wreckage, did exactly the same.
The mechanism has a complex structure with 27 gear wheels, each with different number of teeth, which together through their coordinated action displayed accurately the positions of the Sun, the moon, and the positions of five planets known then including the earth. The back side of the mechanism had two dials that predict the eclipses along with the phase of the moon. The ingenuity doesn’t stop there. The color of the eclipse, the angle at which the shadow fall during the eclipses can also be known. Thus, operated by a small handlebar, the complex motion of the heavenly bodies were monitored and predicted accurately from the earth.
The advancements in radiography technology in the recent decade like X-ray scanning have helped the scientists study the 3D structure of the mechanism. A team of mathematicians, historians, and astronomers has worked tirelessly for years in deciphering the mechanism which split into parts immediately after its recovery from the wreckage. As the mechanism was so fragile and hence cannot be transported, specially designed X-ray machines were shipped to Greece for imaging and other observations.
It was not quite evident to the scientists what the apparatus was all about when discovered. By counting the number of cog wheels and the number of teeth in them, it gradually became evident that the mechanism was designed for astronomical studies. The initial interests of the British historian Derek J. de Solla Price laid the foundation for the unravelling of this mystery when he figured out that there are 127 teeth in one of the gears, which followed the moon. Also, the very minute inscriptions inside the apparatus also helped in understanding the mechanism. The largest among the gears has been found with 223 teeth and all these gears were made manually.
Even the elliptical orbit of the moon has been considered for accuracy with the inclusion of a small pin while designing the mechanism which was otherwise useless. These fine niceties is what made the scientists’ jaws drop.
Anyhow, the mystery about who created the mechanism remained. It is speculated that it might have been the genius of Archimedes behind this awe-inspiring creation. In 214 BC, the Romans invaded Syracuse in the southern Sicily during which a lot of treasures were carried to the home. After 150 years, Cicero the Roman philosopher writes that a mechanical device designed by Archimedes was found with the grandson of Marcus Claudius Marcellus the general who invaded Syracuse, where Archimedes was born. Cicero also writes the death of Archimedes during the pillage. Thus, even though not well known, it is speculated that Archimedes could have designed this mechanism.
At present, the remaining pieces of the mechanism are kept in National Archaeological Museum, Athens with the serial number 15, 087. The Antikythera mechanism could be very well considered to be the first analogous computer designed in the history of mankind. It has been found for a reason and it would shed more light on the genius of our ancestors. This is found from a period of which little is known about and will unlock the doors to many other surprises.