Imagine finding a sophisticated computer device from the 2nd century BC with 30-70 precision-engineered moving parts that could predict the movement of the sun, moon, and planets in our solar system?
Well that’s exactly what was discovered by a sponge diver in 1900, over a century ago, in a Roman shipwreck off of the Greek island of Antikythera. Dubbed the Antikythera Mechanism, the device still baffles modern day technologists.
It took a century to even figure out how it worked and what it was used for, and even then, the solution involved multiple nations and several disciplines of expertise.
Experts believe it was part of a cargo looted from Rhodes en route to a celebration in Rome given by Julius Caesar. The mechanism now sits in the Archaeological Museum of Athens.
Some cite its origins to the Greek mathematician Archimedes (c. 287 BC – c 212 BC), as the Roman philosopher Cicero made mention of General Marcus Marcellus taking home several of Archimedes’s machines. Whether those machines and this device are of the same ilk remains to be seen.
This begs a few questions:
- Did this machine have some specific end goal in mind or was it merely for astronomical study?
- Where did this technology disappear to? (we know that much technology, including plumbing, was lost with the Dark Ages).
- Was there a higher intelligence involved or was this simply a matter of ancient peoples being much more brilliant than we give them credit for?
(For instance, the ancient Chinese had flushing toilets, as did the Romans. Yet in the 1800s, the British were using chamber pots. Indeed, toilets were literally “reinvented” at least 5 times throughout world history, the last time after the cholera epidemic in England)
- What other advanced technologies existed in ancient Greece that were lost?
For more, check out the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project website. Also, here’s the Wikipedia entry on the topic.