Like us on Facebook
Follow us on Instagram

New Research Sheds Light on Mysterious 2,000-Year-Old Computer Found in a Shipwreck

Photo Credit: Fine Art Images / Heritage Images / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Fine Art Images / Heritage Images / Getty Images

The Antikythera mechanism, an ancient marvel discovered over a century ago, continues to captivate researchers and historians alike. This intricate artifact often hailed as the world’s “oldest computer,” has now been studied using innovative techniques from the field of gravitational wave research, shedding new light on its purpose and precision.

What is the Antikythera mechanism?

The Antikythera mechanism.
The Antikythera mechanism was discovered by divers over a century ago. (Photo Credit: Steven Siewert / Fairfax Media / Getty Images)

In 1901, divers exploring a shipwreck off the coast of Greece discovered a corroded and encrusted artifact that would come to be known as the Antikythera mechanism. Dating back to the second century BCE, this remarkable device is believed to be an ancient Greek mechanical computer designed to predict astronomical positions and eclipses. Over the years, fragments of the mechanism have been painstakingly studied, revealing a complex assembly of bronze gears and wheels.

The Antikythera mechanism gained wider public recognition when a replica was featured in the film Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023). This cultural touchstone highlighted the device’s enduring fascination with its enigmatic origins.

Cutting-edge techniques were used to study the mechanism

The Antikythera mechanism on display.
The Antikythera Mechanism on display. (Photo Credit: LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / AFP / Getty Images)

In a groundbreaking study, researchers at the University of Glasgow have applied statistical modeling techniques, originally developed for analyzing gravitational waves, to the Antikythera mechanism. Gravitational waves are ripples in spacetime caused by cataclysmic events such as the merging of black holes. The data for this research was sourced from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), a large-scale physics experiment designed to detect these waves millions of light-years from Earth.

The researchers used Bayesian analysis, a statistical method that quantifies uncertainty based on incomplete data, to study the surviving holes and fragments of the mechanism’s calendar ring. Their findings, published in the Official Journal of the British Horological Institute, suggest that the ring likely had 354 holes, corresponding to the number of days in a lunar year. They ruled out the possibility of it measuring a solar year, as “a ring of 360 holes is strongly disfavoured, and one of 365 holes is not plausible, given our model assumptions.”

Researchers have a new appreciation for the craftsmanship of the ancient Greeks

A replica of the Antikythera mechanism in a display box.
A reconstruction of the Antikythera Mechanism. (Photo Credit: LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / AFP / Getty Images)

The inspiration for this novel approach came from an unexpected source: YouTuber Chris Budiselic, who has been attempting to recreate the Antikythera mechanism. “Towards the end of last year, a colleague pointed to me to data acquired by YouTuber Chris Budiselic, who was looking to make a replica of the calendar ring and was investigating ways to determine just how many holes it contained,” said Graham Woan, a gravitational wave researcher at the University of Glasgow.

He added, “It’s a neat symmetry that we’ve adapted techniques we use to study the universe today to understand more about a mechanism that helped people keep track of the heavens nearly two millennia ago.” This interdisciplinary approach not only deepens our understanding of the Antikythera mechanism but also highlights the sophistication of ancient Greek craftsmanship. The precision required to create the mechanism, with a radial variation of just 0.028 millimeters per hole, speaks to the incredible skill and accuracy of its makers.

Joseph Bayley, a research associate involved in the study, remarked, “It’s given me a new appreciation for the Antikythera mechanism and the work and care that Greek craftspeople put into making it. The precision of the holes’ positioning would have required highly accurate measurement techniques and an incredibly steady hand to punch them.” This meticulous craftsmanship is a testament to the advanced technological capabilities of ancient civilizations.

More from us: Archaeologists Discover 1,000-Year-Old Ice Skate Made From Animal Bone in Czech Republic

The application of gravitational wave research techniques to the study of the Antikythera mechanism has provided remarkable new insights into its function and construction. The suggestion that the calendar ring tracks the lunar year, supported by statistical models, offers a compelling resolution to a longstanding mystery. As we continue to explore the depths of our universe and the relics of our past, the Antikythera mechanism stands as a bridge between ancient ingenuity and modern scientific inquiry.

Join The Vintage Newsletter community today and unlock a treasure trove of weekly curated content, exploring nostalgia, history, and fascinating facts from the past.

June Steele

June Steele is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News