May 17th 1902: Antikythera mechanism discovered

On this day in 1902, an odd mechanism discovered in a Greek shipwreck was identified as a form of ancient calculator. The wreck was discovered off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera in 1900 by sponge divers, and a number of artefacts - including statues, jewellery, pottery, and furniture - were recovered from the ship, dating from the first century BCE. The haul was sent to the National Museum of Archaelogy in Athens for analysis. In May 1902, archaelogist Valerios Stais discovered that one of the recovered objects - which initially appeared just a piece of rock - was in fact a wooden box housing a clockwork mechanism. However, it took decades before the importance of the find was realised. After the 1970s, X-ray imaging allowed scientists to infer that the device could be used for monitoring astronomical movement, tracking the cycles of the solar system. It was dubbed an ‘ancient Greek computer’, but scholars were skeptical until further research in the early 2000s. It was discovered that the device was operated by dials which moved the internal gearwheels to display celestial time - it was essentially a computer which could predict the positions of the sun, moon, and planets on any given date. The fascinating mechanism reveals the sophistication of Ancient Greek scientific and mathematical thinking.

Human skeleton found on famed Antikythera shipwreck

Hannes Schroeder snaps on two pairs of blue latex gloves, then wipes his hands with a solution of bleach. In front of him is a large Tupperware box full of plastic bags that each contain sea water and a piece of red-stained bone. He lifts one out and inspects its contents as several archaeologists hover behind, waiting for his verdict. They’re hoping he can pull off a feat never attempted before — DNA analysis on someone who has been under the sea for 2,000 years.

Through the window, sunlight sparkles on cobalt water. The researchers are on the tiny Greek island of Antikythera, a 10-minute boat ride from the wreckage of a 2,000-year-old merchant ship. Discovered by sponge divers in 1900, the wreck was the first ever investigated by archaeologists. Its most famous bounty to date has been a surprisingly sophisticated clockwork device that modelled the motions of the Sun, Moon and planets in the sky — dubbed the ‘Antikythera mechanism’.

But on 31 August this year, investigators made another groundbreaking discovery: a human skeleton, buried under around half a metre of pottery sherds and sand. Read more.

Scientist tackles mystery of ancient astronomical device

The shoebox-size chunk of bronze didn’t attract much attention when divers retrieved it from an ancient shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera in 1901. Archaeologists on the expedition had their hands full with far more impressive finds, including life-size statues of warriors and horses, delicate glass bowls and scores of ceramic vessels called amphorae.

Decades would pass before scientists realized that the nondescript bronze - now called the Antikythera Mechanism - was the biggest treasure of all.

The device consisted of a series of intricate, interlocking gears designed to predict eclipses and calculate the positions of the sun, moon and planets as they swept across the of the sky.

The machine exhibited a level of technological sophistication no one dreamed was possible when it was built, at least 2,000 years ago. Europe produced nothing to equal it until the geared clocks of the Medieval period, more than a thousand years later. Some scholars describe the Antikythera Mechanism as the world’s first analog computer. Read more.
Work Continues on the Antikythera Shipwreck
Divers have returned to the Antikythera shipwreck site using new technology to recover more artifacts. Their work at the 55-meter-deep site previously came to an end after one diver died of the bends and two were paralyzed. Because of it’s large size and cargo, they are calling this ship the “Titanic of the ancient world.” The shipwreck dates from 70 to 60 BC and is thought to have been carrying a luxury cargo of Greek treasures, including the Antikythera Mechanism and the Olympiads, the cycles of the ancient Olympic Games. It is believed the ship was headed from the coast of Asia Minor west to Rome. Antikythera stands in the middle of this major shipping route and the ship probably sank when a violent storm smashed it against the island’s sheer cliffs.
Word of the Day: Antikythera mechanism

n. A mechanical astronomical device believed to have been manufactured in ancient Greece in the first or second century b.c., fragments of which were discovered in 1900 amongst the cargo of an ancient shipwreck off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera

Image: “NAMA Machine d'Anticythère 1″ by unknown. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Antikythera Mechanism More Ancient Than Believed

The Antikythera mechanism, the ancient clock like device that tracked the cycles of the solar system, is more ancient than it has been estimated so far, according to a new study.

The mechanism, also called the world’s oldest computer by certain scientists, was discovered inside an ancient shipwreck by Greek sponge divers in 1900-1901. After numerous studies, it was estimated to have been constructed between 150 B.C. and 100 B.C. A new study places it at 205 B.C., seven years after the death of Archimedes.

The Antikythera shipwreck in Greece is believed to have happened between 85 B.C. and 60 B.C. History of science professor Christian Carman and physics professor James Evans placed it at 205 B.C. after studying the mechanism and Babylonian records of eclipses. Read more.

The Antikythera mechanism is an early form of analogue computer used for astronomy. It was discovered in the early 20th century and is considered extremely advanced. Dating has placed the mechanism around the 1st century BC and similar levels of technology were not seen again until the 14th century.

Researchers are unsure of the mechanism’s origins and speculate that it may be from a Corinthian colony such as Syracuse or was perhaps from a city further east such as Pergamon in modern day Anatolia.

The mechanism was discovered on a shipwreck and a great deal of mystery surrounds it and it’s origins. One theory is that it was lost when being transported to Rome for the triumph of Julius Caesar. Whatever the case may be, it is an intriguing artefact and a great example of Hellenistic technology and engineering.

More can be read here


Skeleton found at the Antikythera shipwreck

  Divers have unearthed 2,000-year-old skeletal remains within the wreckage of a Roman-era cargo ship. Discovered by divers off the Greek island of Antikythera over 100 years ago, the shipwreck was where the famous Antikythera Mechanism - an ancient astronomical ‘computer’ - was found.

Now marine archaeologists working at the site have revealed that they have also uncovered the skeletal remains of one of the ship’s crew members.

The skeleton was found buried beneath sand and debris around 165ft below the surface and appears to be surprisingly well-preserved considering how long it has remained there.

If enough genetic material has survived intact it may even be possible for scientists to conduct a DNA analysis of the remains and learn a lot more about where this person originally came from.

“Archaeologists study the human past through the objects our ancestors created,” said marine archaeologist Brendan Foley of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

“With the Antikythera Shipwreck, we can now connect directly with this person who sailed and died aboard the Antikythera ship.”
Diving down to the Antikythera shipwreck
“A surgeon is not allowed any emotion when holding a scalpel; it’s the same with archaeologist/divers. I tried to feel nothing when I was cleaning the area around the human skeleton we found at a depth of 50 meters, so that we could recover the bones 2,000 years after the Antikythera shipwreck went down.”

“A surgeon is not allowed any emotion when holding a scalpel; it’s the same with archaeologist/divers. I tried to feel nothing when I was cleaning the area around the human skeleton we found at a depth of 50 meters, so that we could recover the bones 2,000 years after the Antikythera shipwreck went down. There is no room for emotion, just complete concentration and respect for science. This was not, after all, a surface find but the result of excavation in a section of the seabed which required incredible care as human remans in wrecks are very rare and incredibly sensitive,” says Theotokis Theodoulou, a veteran archaeologist at the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities.

“But then at night, when I went to bed, with the bones of this stranger in my room, I began to think about who he may have been, how he died, that he probably didn’t manage to escape and was trapped in the ship’s hold. I felt that we were his people who retrieved him from the sea, found his body waiting for us in the solitude of the deep since 70 BC, and then, with that thought, I became emotional. We will never know his name, but genetic and anthropological tests can tell us the gender, age, dietary habits and possibly what work he did, depending on the muscles he used most on the job. The first indications, without there being any concrete evidence yet, is that the remains belong to a young man.”

A surviving geared fragment of the Antikythera mechanism. The device was discovered in 1900 as part of a shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera, and is thought to have been constructed around 100 BC. It is believed to have been used for calculating various astronomical measurements and is considered by some to be the first known analog computer.

2,000-Year-Old Human Remains Found on Famous Antikythera Shipwreck

Underwater archaeologists made an extremely rare discovery at the world-famous Antikythera shipwreck in Greece – the 2,000-year-old remains of a young male – and now scientists are hopeful they may be able to carry out the first ever DNA sequencing from an ancient shipwreck victim.

Read more…

Τhe Μystery of the Antikythera Shipwreck Further Unfolds

The Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, in collaboration with the American Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, has completed the digital underwater surveying and dimensional precision display of the Shipwreck of Antikythera.

Last year’s imprinting pinpointed the exact shipwreck site of the vessel that carried the Antikythera Mechanism. However, the proximity of other findings such as anchors and amphorae from the same era made archaeologists consider the possibility that there was a second cargo vessel that accompanied the original ship. Therefore it became imperative to map a wider area of 350X45 meters approximately.

Archaeologists now can put all the findings together and draw conclusions about the possible relationship between the two wreck positions. Read more.


Scientists are still making discoveries about the world’s first “computer”

Divers found the Antikythera Mechanism in the Mediterranean Sea in 1900. It dates all the way back to 60 BC, when the ancient Greeks likely used it to track the positions of celestial objects. But now a new X-ray scanning analysis of the mechanism has revealed a series of inscriptions on the side — and a secondary purpose.

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Lego Antikythera Mechanism

Recreation of an ancient greek technology.

Greek Archaeological Body Approves New 5-year Excavation at Antikythera Shipwreck

An international archaeological expedition diving at the site of the Antikythera shipwreck in southern Greece has received the green light to continue its investigation in the area for the next five years, it was announced on Friday.

The Greek Central Archaeological Council (KAS) approved the new test excavations which will focus on areas where a large number of pottery or metal objects have been discovered and in places where archaeologists have discovered evidence of one or two more shipwrecks.

The last expedition, which was launched in 2012, was a collaboration between the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities and the American Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). During the first year of the expedition, archaeologists discovered and pulled up — among other things — a segment of an anchor and a lead joint from a Roman anchor. Read more.