Europe

Decade of labor reveals philosopher's guide to the galaxy

  • Alexander Jones, center, Mike Edmunds, right, and Yanis Bitsakis sit behind a possible reconstruction of the more than 2,000-year-old Antikythera Mechanism during a press conference in Athens, Thursday, June 9 , 2016. An international team of scientists says a decade's painstaking work on the corroded fragments found in an ancient Greek shipwreck has deciphered roughly 500 words of text that explained the workings of the complex machine, described as the world;s first mechanical computer. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

    Alexander Jones, center, Mike Edmunds, right, and Yanis Bitsakis sit behind a possible reconstruction of the more than 2,000-year-old Antikythera Mechanism during a press conference in Athens, Thursday, June 9 , 2016. An international team of scientists says a decade's painstaking work on the corroded fragments found in an ancient Greek shipwreck has deciphered roughly 500 words of text that explained the workings of the complex machine, described as the world;s first mechanical computer. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)  (The Associated Press)

  • A fragment of the 2,100-year-old Antikythera Mechanism, believed to be the earliest surviving mechanical computing device, is displayed at the National Archaeological Museum, in Athens, Thursday, June 9 , 2016. An international team of scientists says a decade's painstaking work on the corroded fragments found in an ancient Greek shipwreck has deciphered roughly 500 words of text that explained the workings of the complex machine, described as the world;s first mechanical computer. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

    A fragment of the 2,100-year-old Antikythera Mechanism, believed to be the earliest surviving mechanical computing device, is displayed at the National Archaeological Museum, in Athens, Thursday, June 9 , 2016. An international team of scientists says a decade's painstaking work on the corroded fragments found in an ancient Greek shipwreck has deciphered roughly 500 words of text that explained the workings of the complex machine, described as the world;s first mechanical computer. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)  (The Associated Press)

  • Fragments of the 2,100-year-old Antikythera Mechanism, believed to be the earliest surviving mechanical computing device, is displayed at the National Archaeological Museum, in Athens, Thursday, June 9 , 2016. An international team of scientists says a decade's painstaking work on the corroded fragments found in an ancient Greek shipwreck has deciphered roughly 500 words of text that explained the workings of the complex machine, described as the world;s first mechanical computer. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

    Fragments of the 2,100-year-old Antikythera Mechanism, believed to be the earliest surviving mechanical computing device, is displayed at the National Archaeological Museum, in Athens, Thursday, June 9 , 2016. An international team of scientists says a decade's painstaking work on the corroded fragments found in an ancient Greek shipwreck has deciphered roughly 500 words of text that explained the workings of the complex machine, described as the world;s first mechanical computer. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)  (The Associated Press)

Whenever you're trying to fathom a mangled sample of very old hi-tech, it helps to have the manufacturer's instructions.

For over a century since its discovery in an ancient shipwreck, the function of the Antikythera Mechanism — named after the Greek island off which it was found — was a deep and tantalizing mystery.

From a few words deciphered on the twisted, corroded fragments of bronze gears and plates, experts guessed it was an astronomical instrument.

After more than a decade's efforts using cutting-edge scanning equipment, an international team of scientists has now read about 3,500 characters of text — a quarter of the original — hidden inside the 2,100-year-old remains.

They say it was a kind of philosopher's guide to the galaxy, and perhaps the world's oldest mechanical computer.