It was exactly 117 years ago — May 17, 1902 — when Spirydon Stais visited a museum which housed treasures from an ancient shipwreck.
Among them was a round, green-encrusted piece of metal which caught his eye, as it looked like nothing else taken up from the bottom of the sea surrounding the Greek island of Antikythera.
The shipwreck had been accidentally discovered by local fishermen. One of them had emerged from the water clutching a bronze arm — the first find from the Antikythera wreckage.
Stais, a Greek politician, was the man who organized the ancient ship’s underwater excavation. The findings were plentiful — and staggering in their import. But the strange object which stood out from the coins, pottery and sculptures was the most important of all.
It was what was later to be known as the “Antikythera Mechanism,” dubbed by scientists and archaeologists as the world’s first ‘computer.’
The ancient machine had been buried at the bottom of the sea for about 2,100 years. It consisted of bronze gears and metallic mechanical parts, which had once moved smoothly but were rusty and decayed.
For decades, archaeologists and scientists tried to discover what the complex mechanism was. They estimated that it had been built between 200 and 70 BC. In recent decades, they used X-rays and CT scans to look inside the Antikythera Mechanism and reconstruct it.
Scientists discovered that the device was an elaborate construction of some thirty interlocking, spinning gears which controlled dials tracking the sun, the moon, eclipses, planets — and even the schedule for the Olympics.
A hand crank spun the gears which moved the hands on the dials. In this way, the user could predict eclipses and the passage of celestial bodies through the sky.
In 2015, Kyriakos Efstathiou, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and head of the group which studied the Antikythera Mechanism said: “All of our research has shown that our ancestors used their deep knowledge of astronomy and technology to construct such mechanisms, and based only on this conclusion, the history of technology should be re-written because it sets its start many centuries back.”
The professor further explained that the Antikythera Mechanism is undoubtedly the first machine of antiquity which can be classified by the scientific term of “computer,” because “it is a machine with an entry where we can import data, and this machine can bring and create results based on a scientific mathematical scale.
“Never before did we have such a device,” he declared.
“We do not simply refer to a computer but to a super-computer,” Efstathiou emphasized.
In 2016, an inscription on the device was revealed, something like a label or a user’s manual. It included a discussion of the colors of eclipses, details used at the time in the making of astrological predictions.
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