What is the Antikythera Mechanism? Google Doodle marks 115th anniversary of world’s ‘first computer’

GOOGLE is celebrating the 115th anniversary of the discovery of the Antikythera Mechanism, hailed as the world’s “first computer”.

The mysterious artefact was discovered on a Roman shipwreck and is thought to date back to 150 BC.

The Google Doodle for May 17, 2017, celebrates the 115th Anniversary of the Antikythera Mechanism's Discovery
The Google Doodle for May 17, 2017, celebrates the 115th Anniversary of the Antikythera Mechanism’s Discovery

What is the Antikythera Mechanism?

On May 17, 1902, Greek archaeologist Valerios Stais was sifting through some artefacts from a shipwreck on the Greek island of Antikythera.

The wrecked Roman cargo ship was discovered two years earlier, but Stais was the first to notice an intriguing hunk of bronze among the treasures – which looked like it might be a gear or wheel.

That corroded chunk of metal turned out to be part of the Antikythera Mechanism, an ancient analogue astronomical computer.

The Antikythera Mechanism was found on a Roman shipwreck and is though to date back as far as 150BC
The Antikythera Mechanism was found on a Roman shipwreck and is though to date back as far as 150BC
Alamy

What was the mechanism used for?

The Antikythera Mechanism tracked planetary positions, predicted lunar and solar eclipses, and even signalled the next Olympic Games.

It was probably also used for mapping and navigation.

A dial on the front combines zodiacal and solar calendars, while dials on the back capture celestial cycles.

Computer models based on 3D tomography have revealed more than 30 sophisticated gears, housed in a wooden and bronze case the size of a shoebox.

The crank-powered device was probably used for mapping and navigation
The crank-powered device was probably used for mapping and navigation
Alamy

How old is the ‘computer’?

The mechanism was initially dated around 85 BC, but recent studies suggest it may be even older, dating back to around 150 BC.

The crank-powered device was way ahead of its time – its components are as intricate as those of some 18th century clocks.

Historians continue to ponder the Antikythera Mechanism’s purpose and inner workings, and visitors to the National Archaeological Museum of Greece marvel at its delicate complexity.


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