Saturday, 17 Apr 2021

Ancient mystery of world’s first computer is ‘cracked by Brit scientists’

Scientists claim they have cracked how the world's first computer worked more than 2,000 years ago.

Their replica of the Antikythera mechanism "challenges all our preconceptions about the technological capabilities of the ancient Greeks".

One researcher said the findings suggested the Greeks could have made clocks hundreds of years before they were invented in 14th century Europe.

Mystery has surrounded how the device predicted the movements of the Moon, Sun and five known planets since its discovery at sea in 1901.

Its ancient brass gear mechanism has been dubbed the first and oldest known analogue computer and was able to predict astronomical positions and eclipses decades in advance to create calendars and use in astrology.

The hand-powered planetarium was also useful for major sporting events as it could track the four-year cycle of athletic games.

Two thirds of the mechanism are missing but the researchers at UCL reckon they've now cracked how it worked.

They said their model revealed it "as a beautiful conception, translated by superb engineering into a device of genius.

"It challenges all our preconceptions about the technological capabilities of the ancient Greeks.

"Solving this complex 3D puzzle reveals a creation of genius—combining cycles from Babylonian astronomy, mathematics from Plato’s Academy and ancient Greek astronomical theories."

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Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, the UCL team said they worked out new gear arrangements that allows nearly all of the mechanism’s gearwheels to fit within a space only 25mm deep.

They reckoned the astronomical bodies' positions were displayed on concentric rings but with complicated paths as the Greeks believed they revolved round the Earth, rather than the Sun.

Adam Wojcik, a materials scientist at UCL, told the Guardian: “We believe that our reconstruction fits all the evidence that scientists have gleaned from the extant remains to date."

But it was not clear if the ancient Greeks had lathes needed to shape the metals into the replica's components today.

Mr Wojcik said: “The concentric tubes at the core of the planetarium are where my faith in Greek tech falters, and where the model might also falter.

“Lathes would be the way today, but we can’t assume they had those for metal.”

He added: “Although metal is precious, and so would have been recycled, it is odd that nothing remotely similar has been found or dug up.

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“If they had the tech to make the Antikythera mechanism, why did they not extend this tech to devising other machines, such as clocks?”

Divers found the ancient device amid a haul of treasures salvaged from a merchant ship that sank off the Greek island of Antikythera in a suspected storm in the first century BC.

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