Widely touted as the world’s oldest analog computer, the Greek-made Antikythera Mechanism was salvaged from Antikythera, a historic underwater location (south of Greece) in 1900. And since then, the proverbial ‘contraption’ has astonished archaeologists and scientists alike, by virtue of not only its evolved workmanship but also its advanced purpose. To that end, the artifact is often also stated as the world’s oldest gear ‘machine’ (based on the workings of the differential calculator) – crafted to predict various complex astronomical observances, including planetary positions and eclipses.
In terms of archaeology, there are various unsolved mysteries pertaining to the true creator/s of the advanced historical object, with potential candidates ranging from craftsmen of Corinth to ‘engineers’ of Pergamum. But the historians did settle on a singular factor – the origin date of the Antikythera Mechanism was believed to be from around the period of 100 BC. But now even this date is challenged, as a result of the detailed study undertaken by James Evans from University of Puget Sound, and Christián Carman from University of Quilmes.
Their analysis is based on the reconstruction of the Antikythera Mechanism, achieved by John Steele of Brown University in 2008. The process entailed the functionality of the device itself, with the assessment of the planetary anomalies, solar eclipses and inaccuracies (resulting from the missing part of the ancient device); and their subsequent matching against Babylonian eclipse records. Then a procedure of elimination was adopted, which allowed Evans and Carman to discard numerous eclipse patterns. Finally, the duo stumbled across a matching eclipse scenario, and the date was fixed to the year of 205 BC. In essence, the world’s oldest analog computer was found to be even older by around a hundred years.
This new direction of analysis alludes to two interesting hypotheses. Firstly, the Antikythera Mechanism was quite possibly based on the mathematical scope put forth by the earlier Babylonians, as opposed to the latter-developed Greek trigonometry. Secondly, this ancient piece of machinery might have been the very same device mentioned by Cicero – which supposedly was crafted by the great Archimedes himself, and was taken as booty by Roman general Marcellus during the sack of Syracuse in 212 BC.