Friday, October 23, 2020

Is this the world’s oldest computer? 2,100-year-old mechanical relic acted as an astronomer’s ‘guide to the galaxy’

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  • The Antikythera Mechanism was found in a shipwreck in Aegean Sea
  • When first discovered, experts guessed it was astronomical instrument
  • Now cutting-edge scanning equipment over a decade revealed 500 words
  • Nothing of the sort was known to be made for well over 1,000 years 

 

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Whether you are assembling an Ikea wardrobe or trying to fathom a mangled relic of very old technology, it always helps to have the manufacturer’s instructions.

But for a century since its discovery in an ancient shipwreck, the exact function of the mysterious ‘Antikythera Mechanism’ was impossible to decipher because only tiny parts of its text were understood.

Now, over 100 years after it was found, the relic has been revealed as a kind of philosopher’s guide to the galaxy, and perhaps the world’s oldest mechanical computer.




For over a century since its discovery in an ancient shipwreck, the exact function of the Antikythera Mechanism (pictured) – named after the southern Greek island off which it was found – was a tantalizing puzzle. University of Athens professor Xenophon Moussas points at a possible reconstruction

For over a century since its discovery in an ancient shipwreck, the exact function of the Antikythera Mechanism (pictured) - named after the southern Greek island off which it was found - was a tantalizing puzzle. University of Athens professor Xenophon Moussas points at a possible reconstruction

From a few words deciphered on the twisted, corroded fragments of bronze gears and plates, experts guessed the relic was an astronomical instrument Jacc Blog.

But much more remained hidden out of sight.

After more than a decade’s efforts using cutting-edge scanning equipment, an international team of scientists has now read about 3,500 characters of explanatory text – a quarter of the original – in the innards of the 2,100-year-old remains.

They say it was a kind of philosopher’s guide to the galaxy, and perhaps the world’s oldest mechanical computer.

From a few words deciphered on the twisted, corroded fragments of bronze gears and plates, experts guessed the Antikythera Mechanism – named after the southern Greek island off which it was found – was an astronomical instrument.

But much more remained hidden out of sight.

After more than a decade’s efforts using cutting-edge scanning equipment, an international team of scientists has now read about 3,500 characters of explanatory text, a quarter of the original, in the innards of the 2,100-year-old remains.

The findings revealed it was a kind of philosopher’s guide to the galaxy.

‘Now we have texts that you can actually read as ancient Greek, what we had before was like something on the radio with a lot of static,’ said team member Professor Alexander Jones, a professor of the history of ancient science at New York University.

 




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