Ancient Greek Computing Power

Sean Potter, an undergraduate history student who is enrolled in HIST 4150: Astrolabes, Arms, and Azulejos: Medieval Science, Technology, and Material Culture, located a web posting relating to a modern LEGO reproduction of the Antikythera mechanism. This posting is particularly intriguing as several students in HIST 4150 will be creating reproductions of medieval devices and technologies this semester. Hopefully, they will be inspired by this LEGO model.

So, what is the Antikythera mechanism?

Image

Image from The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project

According to Encyclopedia Britannica,

[It was an] ancient Greek mechanical device used to calculate and display information about astronomical phenomena. The remains of this ancient “computer,” now on display in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, were recovered in 1901 from the wreck of a trading ship that sank in the first half of the 1st century bce, near the island of Antikythera in the Mediterranean Sea. Its manufacture is currently dated to 100 bce, give or take 30 years.

The Antikythera mechanism has the first known set of scientific dials or scales, and its importance was recognized when radiographic images showed that the remaining fragments contain 30 gear wheels. No other geared mechanism of such complexity is known from the ancient world, or indeed until medieval cathedral clocks were built a millennium later.

To learn more about the device, you should visit the The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project which “aims to completely reassess the function and significance of the Antikythera Mechanism.”

And for the LEGO reproduction, see PCWorld’s “Ancient Greek Computer Gets Rebuilt Using Lego”.

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About Roger L. Martinez

Assistant Professor of History University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
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