Tag Archives: Antikythera

The Antikythera Mechanism

On a short trip to Athens in January this year, I was able to spend a couple of hours in the city’s National Archaeological Museum.  One of the highlights of the collection is the Antikythera Mechanism, a mysterious object which was found by sponge divers in the wreckage of an ancient Roman ship off the Greek island of Antikythera in 1900.  It is the earliest known example of a geared mechanism, having been dated to around 150-100 BC, and its discovery changed our perception of mechanical technology in the ancient world.

The Antikythera Mechanism is described in Chapter 1 of my book in a section on the evolution of geared mechanisms, one of the ‘building blocks’ that facilitated the development of calculating machines.  I researched the Mechanism extensively during the writing of the book but had never had the opportunity to study it in person before.

The curators have done a superb job of exhibiting the Antikythera Mechanism, a difficult task due to the calcified condition of the remaining fragments.  The extensive display includes both physical and computer-based reconstructions of the Mechanism plus explanatory material from the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project.  Below are a couple of photographs I took of the exhibit during my visit.  The left hand photo shows the three main fragments from the front.  The right hand photo is a close-up of the largest fragment from the rear.

Antikythera Mechanism FrontAntikythera Mechanism Rear


Sample Chapter Added

I’ve now added a sample chapter from the book in PDF format which can be accessed by clicking on the Download button on the ‘Sample Chapter’ page. I chose Chapter 1 (Computer Prehistory – Calculating Machines) as, unlike later chapters, it doesn’t rely on other chapters to set the scene and can be read as a standalone work.

As the title suggests, this chapter covers the earliest efforts to mechanise calculation, from the calculating aids of John Napier through the mechanical calculators of Schickard, Pascal and Leibniz to the incredible engines of Charles Babbage.  To put these into context and provide a more rounded picture, it also covers the advances in engineering technology or ‘building blocks’ which facilitated the development of such machines.

Like many good stories, there are also elements of mystery. These include the discovery of a mysterious object in an ancient shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera in 1900, which changed our perception of mechanical technology in the ancient world, and the role of the great Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci, who may or may not have been responsible for the first design for a calculating machine.

Feedback would be much appreciated but please note that the text has not yet benefited from the attention of a professional editor so don’t be too surprised if you spot the occasional typo or grammatical howler.