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Antikythera Mechanism

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

The Antikythera Mechanism
Antikythera Mechanism

Antikythera Mechanism is an ancient mechanical device designed to calculate the position of celestial bodies. Discovered in a wreck near the Greek island Antikythera, between Kithira and Crete, dated to 150-100 BCE. Until the 18th-century clocks, no mechanism of a similar degree of complexity is known.

The discovery took place in 1902, when the archaeologist Valerios Stais noticed that the corroded lump of bronze extracted from the wreck a year earlier contained a gear. As it turned out, there was one of many parts of the larger mechanism.

The mechanism consists of 37 bronze gears, 1 to 17 cm in diameter. The wheels were driven by a crank (or several cranks) on the side and moved with a few directions. According to historian Derek J. de Solla Price, the device served as an ancient form of astronomical calculator, which determined the positions of celestial bodies. The shield from the front showed the movement of the Sun and the Moon against the background of the zodiac and the Egyptian calendar used then in Greece, including the leap year every four years.

It also showed the phases of the Moon (using cycles discovered by Meton and Callippus). Shields in the back allowed to synchronize the solar calendar with the moon and predict eclipses of the Sun and the Moon (Saros cycle). Through an eccentric combination of two wheels, the mechanism reproduced even details such as the uneven movement of the moon in the sky (according to the theory of the ancient astronomer Hipparchus).

The mechanism also allowed to predict the moments of emergence and sunsets of the more important stars and constellations, and probably the positions of the five planets known at the time. The corresponding shields have not survived, but the name Venus on the front of the device has been read.

The aforementioned British historian Derek J. de Solla Price in the 1950s has begun to work on a credible reconstruction of the mechanism. His infinite work was continued by further researchers – as a result of amendments in 2006, the final work of the team of researchers under the direction of Mike G. Edmunds was presented.

Digital reconstruction of the Antykithira mechanism.
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The device itself was 33 cm high, 17 cm wide and 9 cm long. Originally, it was hung on a wooden frame. It is suspected that the author of the work was the astronomer Hipparchus – living in the second century BCE, Archmiedes or one of his students. At present, the Antykithira mechanism is in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

In the wreck near Antykithyra, searches are still being carried out, in the hope that successive fragments of the mechanism can be taken from the sea.


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