A breakthrough in the study of a mysterious Hellenistic clockwork device which was found at the bottom of the Aegean Sea more than a century ago has led researchers to conclude it was designed for philosophers to peer into the future.
Dubbed the ‘Antikythera mechanism’, after sponge divers hauled the bronze mechanism from a shipwreck off the coast of the Greek island in 1900, the machine has been described as an ancient computer because of its advanced technological design.
Today, the device is split up into 82 pieces, some of which are inscribed with faded ancient text.
While the metal and wood mechanism is without the wires one might expect in a modern day computer, experts had long believed it was a calculator used to point to astronomical changes.
For more than a decade the team have used advanced three-dimensional x-ray technology, provided by the likes of Hewlett Packard and X-Tek Systems, to uncover the meaning of the damaged lettering, according to the project website.
One of the X-rays known as the ‘Bladerunner’ is described as having the ability to pick up microscopic details unseen by the naked eye.
A study published in the Nature academic journal in 2006 described the 2nd century tool as “technically more complex than any known device for at least a millennium afterwards.”
Led by the research project’s Tony Freeth, the study stated that the Antikythera Mechanism had been used to predict “lunar and solar eclipses on the basis of Babylonian arithmetic-progression cycles.”
Now an update on the inscriptions has been put forward at a presentation organised by the Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation in the Greek port city of Piraeus appears to back that up.
New York University professor and researcher Alexander Jones has said the project has cleared up a lot of the surrounding fog regarding the mechanism’s purpose.
“It was not a research tool, something that an astronomer would use to do computations, or even an astrologer to do prognostications, but something that you would use to teach about the cosmos and our place in the cosmos,” said Jones.
“It’s like a textbook of astronomy as it was understood then, which connected the movements of the sky and the planets with the lives of ancient Greeks and their environment.”
He added: “I would see it as more something that might be a philosopher’s instructional device.”