An ancient device too advanced to be real gives up its secrets at last

Researchers present what they’ve learned now that they can read the tiny text inside the Antikythera mechanism.

Exploded view of Antikythera mechanism (Peulle)
Exploded view of Antikythera mechanism (Peulle/Wikimedia)

Though it it seemed to be just a corroded lump of some sort when it was found in a shipwreck off the coast of Greece near Antikythera in 1900, in 1902 archaeologist Valerios Stais, looking at the gear embedded in it, guessed that what we now call the “Antikythera mechanism" was some kind of astronomy-based clock. He was in the minority—most agreed that something so sophisticated must have entered the wreck long after its other 2,000-year-old artifacts. Nothing like it was believed to have existed until 1,500 years later.



Image source: Louisa Gouliamaki/Stringer


In 1951, British historian Derek J. de Solla Price began studying the find, and by 1974 he had worked out that it was, in fact, a device from 150 to 100 BC Greece. He realized it used meshing bronze gears connected to a crank to move hands on the device's face in accordance with the Metonic cycle, the 235-month pattern that ancient astronomers used to predict eclipses.

By 2009, modern imaging technology had identified all 30 of the Antikythera mechanism's gears, and a virtual model of it was released.

Nature Documentaries

Understanding how the pieces fit goes together confirmed that the Antikythera mechanism was capable of predicting the positions of the planets with which the Greeks were familiar—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn—as well as the sun and moon, and eclipses. It even has a black and white stone that turns to show the phases of the moon. Andrew Carol, an engineer from Apple, built a (much bigger) working model of the device using Legos to demonstrate its operation.

John Pavlus

In June of 2016, an international team of experts revealed new information derived from tiny inscriptions on the devices parts in ancient Greek that had been too tiny to read—some of its characters are just 1/20th of an inch wide—until cutting-edge imaging technology allowed it to be more clearly seen. They've now read about 35,00 characters explaining the device.

The writing verifies the Antikythera mechanism's capabilities, with a couple of new wrinkles added: The text refers to upcoming eclipses by color, which may mean they were viewed as having some kind of oracular meaning. Second, it appears the device was built by more than one person on the island of Rhodes, and that it probably wasn't the only one of its kind. The ancient Greeks were apparently even further ahead in their astronomical understanding and mechanical know-how than we'd imagined.

--

90,000-year-old human hybrid found in ancient cave

Researchers have just discovered the remains of a hybrid human.

Researchers in a chamber of the Denisova cave in Siberia, where the fossil of a Denisova 11 was discovered. CreditIAET SB RAS, Sergei Zelensky
Surprising Science

90,000 years ago, a young girl lived in a cave in the Altai mountains in southern Siberia. Her life was short; she died in her early teens, but she stands at a unique point in human evolution. She is the first known hybrid of two different kinds of ancient humans: the Neanderthals and the Denisovans.

Keep reading Show less

The 10 most influential women in tech right now

These thought leaders, founders, and entrepreneurs are propelling the kind of future we want to be a part of.

Kimberly Bryant (left) , Joanna Stern (middle) ,and Susan Wojcicki (right)

Credit: Flickr, The Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch
Technology & Innovation
  • The tech industry may be dominated by men in terms of numbers, but there are lots of brilliant women in leadership positions that are changing the landscape.
  • The women on this list are founders of companies dedicated to teaching girls to code, innovators in the fields of AI, VR, and machine learning, leading tech writers and podcasters, and CEOs of companies like YouTube and Project Include.
  • This list is by no means all-encompassing. There are many more influential women in tech that you should seek out and follow.

Keep reading Show less

Teen popularity linked to increased depression in adolescence, decreased depression in adulthood

The results of this study showed depressive symptoms being highest in adolescence, declining in early adulthood and then climbing back up again into one's early 30s.

Credit: Dragana Gordic on Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • A 2020 Michigan State University study examined the link between teen social networks and the levels of depression later in life.
  • This study used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, specifically targeting social network data. The results showed depressive symptoms being highest in adolescence and declining in early adulthood, then climbing back up again into one's early 30s.
  • There are several ways you can attempt to stay active and socially connected while battling depression, according to experts.
Keep reading Show less
Surprising Science

In quantum entanglement first, scientists link distant large objects

Physicists create quantum entanglement, making two distant objects behave as one.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast