Researchers have unearthed new clues to an ancient Greek astronomical puzzle that has fascinated archaeologists for over a century.
The Antikythera Mechanism, an ancient machine dubbed “the world’s first computer,” was recovered from a treasure-laden shipwreck off the coast of Greece in 1901. However, the latest research by James Evans, professor of physics at the University of Puget Sound, and Christián Carman, history of science professor at the University of Quilmes, Argentina, sheds new light on the clocklike astronomical mechanism.
The study, published in the Archive for History of Exact Science, pinpoints the date when the mechanism was timed to begin as 205 B.C., making it 50 to 100 years older than previously thought.
According a statement released by the University of Puget Sound, the research “fills a gap in ancient scientific history by indicating that the Greeks were able to predict eclipses and engineer a highly complex machine” much earlier than was previously thought.
Evans and Carman’s work also supports the idea that the eclipse prediction scheme was not based on Greek trigonometry (which was nonexistent in 205 B.C.) but on Babylonian arithmetical methods, the University said.
The researchers arrived at the 205 B.C. date via a method of elimination they devised. Evans and Carman examined the hundreds of ways that the device’s eclipse patterns could match Babylonian records reconstructed by John Steele, professor of Egyptology and Assyriology at Brown University.
“The calculations take into account lunar and solar anomalies (which result in faster or slower velocity), missing solar eclipses, lunar and solar eclipse
s cycles, and other astronomical phenomena,” explained the University of Puget Sound, in its statement. “The work was particularly difficult because only about a third of the Antikythera’s eclipse predictor is preserved.”
The latest research may also place the Antikythera Mechanism close to the lifetime of Archimedes, who died in 212 B.C., although experts have questioned possible links to the celebrated mathematician.
The Mechanism’s heavily encrusted fragments are kept in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.