Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Calculator of the Ancients

One of the oddest artifacts ever found, the Antikythera Mechanism, has been subjected to a reconstuction that shows just how amazing the original device was. Found off Greece in 1901 and dating back perhaps 2,100 years, this assemblage of precisely crafted gear wheels was more sophistiaced than anything that would appear for a millennium. The bronze construction was a calculator that could add, multiply, divide and subtract. It could track the movements of the sun and moon and locate them within the zodiac, and could even predict lunar and solar eclipses.

COMMENT: These new findings leave us with more questions than answers. What brilliant individual or group designed and built the Mechanism? (It's been speculated the mathematician and atronomer Hipparchos had something to do with it, but no one really knows.) Were other devices also made? (At the least, any invention so complex must have had prototypes.) Why did the know-how embodied in the Mechanism disappear completely, without leaving even a mention of its existence among the records of the time? One need not be an "ancient astronaut" kook to shake one's head in amazement.

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