In 2015 I had the pleasure of viewing the Antikythera Mechanism first hand in the Athens Museum. In 2019 I’m travelling to Syracuse which was a colony of Corinth, the home of Archimedes and possibly the origin of this ancient computer.
The world’s first computer was discovered on 17 May 1902 in a shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera, The sophistication of this ancient astronomical computer, known as the Antikythera Mechanism has amazed those involved in study.
At over 2000 years old, the very existence of the Antikythera Mechanism was a surprise. Its technological sophistication seems out of place from a time when there was a lull of astronomical discoveries. Although exact history of the Antikythera Mechanism is speculative, the possibilities are exciting. It was likely created in Greek city of Rhodes during the 2nd century B.C., with a design influenced by ancient mathematicians and astronomers. This may have included the famous Greek astronomer Hipparchus of Rhodes, whose work on the complex motion of the Moon seems to feature in the mechanism. At some point, this ancient computer was loaded onto a cargo ship bound from Rhodes to Rome, perhaps for a parade organised by Julius Caesar. But by some misfortune, the ship sunk off the coast of the island Antikythera and remained under the sea until it was discovered in 1902 by a Greek archaeologist.
At the time of discovery, scholars didn’t know what to make of the mechanism and its inscriptions, and so later generations of researchers were left to uncover its secrets. In the 1970s and 1990s, X-ray imaging revealed that the mechanism was used to look at the sky. However, as the X-ray images were hard to read, not many scholars took this as credible information. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that the mechanism was really understood. In 2006, detailed 3D X-ray scans revealed the inner workings and inscriptions of the mechanism.