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.