Gravitational Wave Researchers Cast New Light on Antikythera Mechanism

University of Glasgow

Techniques developed to analyze the ripples in spacetime detected by one of the 21st century’s most sensitive pieces of scientific equipment have helped cast new light on the function of the oldest known analogue computer.

Astronomers from the University of Glasgow have used statistical modelling techniques developed to analyze gravitational waves to establish the likely number of holes in one of the broken rings of the Antikythera mechanism – an ancient artifact which was showcased in the movie  Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.

While the movie version enabled the intrepid archaeologist to travel through time, the Glasgow team’s results provide fresh evidence that one of the components of the Antikythera mechanism was most likely used to track the Greek lunar year. They also offer new insight into the remarkable craftsmanship of the ancient Greeks.

Discovering the Antikythera Mechanism

The mechanism was discovered in 1901 by divers exploring a sunken shipwreck near the Aegean island of Antikythera. Although the shoebox-sized mechanism had broken into fragments and eroded, it quickly became clear that it contained a complex series of gears which were unusually intricately tooled.

Decades of subsequent research and analysis have established that the mechanism dates from the second century BC and functioned as a kind of hand-operated mechanical computer. Exterior dials connected to the internal gears…

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