Sunday, November 20, 2016

Meeting The Antikythera Mechanism

The three major fragments--there are many smaller ones!

The Antikythera Mechanism! For much of my life this particular archaeological find from ancient Greece has been a "bucket list" item for me. If you don't know about this amazing bronze-age analog computer, I recommend you look it up--and prepare to have your mind blown!

Shipmate Jeremy Guyet and I went to the National Archaeological Museum for the specific purposes of making the acquaintance of the Mechanism; we wandered the galleries for nearly two hours, exploring the various periods of Greek, Roman and Archaic artistic expression--mostly through sculpture. 

As we explored my mind buzzed constantly with the refrain of "where is it?". I actually had begun to wonder if perhaps the Mechanism were in an entirely DIFFERENT museum, or perhaps on-loan somewhere else (an ultimate irony would be that the Mechanism would be on-display in New York or D.C.).

Finally, unable to resist, I questioned a Docent as to the Antikythera Mechanism's location--and she told me that the gallery containing it was closed.

Not. Good.

Fortunately, a tiny part of my mind actually believes that the Universe DOES revolve around me and my desires, so as we were about to leave the Museum I just HAD to ask another staff member about seeing the Mechanism; this time the Cosmos smiled upon me as a few minutes later Jeremy and I were being escorted by a curator into the Presence of the Device itself.

And there I was, just inches from the dazzling discovery, made by fishermen diving on a shipwreck off the island of Antikythera in 1901, that has kept many archaeologists (and mathematicians, astronomers, and computer scientists) scratching their heads for a century. Only in recent decades, as technologies have developed that can scan through the sea-growth encasing the gears and dials, have the complexity and elegance of its design been determined.
The three large fragments from their reverse side

Built perhaps 2,200 years ago by an unknown craftsman; a computing machine capable of calculating eclipses of the sun and moon with insane precision and accuracy, it appears to be a classroom teaching tool, perhaps one of many, and certainly not a one-off; the craftsmanship and skill demonstrate that this must be only one step in a long line of developmental evolution.
Note the lines of text in Ancient Greek...Instructions for use?

As I say, something I've dreamed of seeing with my own eyes for a very long time. I think I held my breath...I was definitely at a loss for words for some time. I stared into remains of a past un-imaginable only a few years ago; evidence of industry and sophistication never even considered for the ancient Greeks...and felt truly humbled by the experience.

A modern reconstruction of the Mechanism

And the rear dial layout, based on recent research

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