An amazing device, created by Greek scientists 2,000 years ago, is the world’s first computer. What is the story behind this extraordinary mechanism and its hidden mysteries?

The Antikythera Mechanism has been a base of research for more than a century. This complex device, which is considered to be the world’s first computer, was recovered in 1901 near the island of Antikythera, Greece, in a shipwreck that was discovered accidentally by sponge divers.

Inside the wreck, the divers found flasks, coins and statues dating back to 100-150 B.C., which offer valuable information on the commercial artwork trading during the Hellenistic period.

Fragments of the shipwreck, as well as various other accessories, prove that the vessel was a freighter with a capacity of 300 tons, which was carrying bronze and marble statues, glassware, and golden jewelry. Researchers have focused on a complex device that was found in the shipwreck, known as the Antikythera Mechanism.

What was first considered an antique was finally recognized as the ancestor of modern computers. The Antikythera Mechanism is an extremely precise device that was constructed by Greek scientists for astronomical and scientific purposes.

This mechanism consists of aligned wheels, spokes and cogs made of metal. Using the Antikythera Mechanism, the ancient Greeks were able to predict eclipses, astronomical positions and the movements of the stars and planets.

In 2005, Academic researchers created the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project (AMRP). This project is a collaboration of the University of Cardiff, the University of Thessalonica, the University of Athens, the NBG Cultural Foundation and the contribution of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture.

The aim is solving the puzzle of the Antikythera Mechanism and reassessing its function and significance. High-technology companies support their work, too.

Researchers have been using the latest technologies to decode the precious information this spectacular artifact contains. The three-dimensional structure of the Antikythera Mechanism and its surface inscription keeps surprising them.

More than one Terabyte of data that contain digital photographs, surface imaging and x-rays, have been collected and are available in a digital archive for future researchers.

New information on the Antikythera Mechanism’s cultural origins emerged in 2008. A paper published in the science journal “Nature” on July 31st, 2008 revealed the existence of month names of Corinthian origin on the Mechanism, supporting the idea that the Mechanism was from a Corinthian colony of the western Hellenic world.

Moreover, a back dial dedicated to the four-year Olympiad Cycle of athletic games in ancient Greece was revealed. This means that the ancient Greeks were also using the Mechanism to calculate the date of the Olympic Games.

This is an on-going project and, as a result, information is emerging on a regular basis. A new research on the Antikythera shipwreck site started in 2014, which will hopefully reveal further information on the use of the world’s first computer.

Image by Tilemahos Efthimiadis from Athens, Greece / CC BY

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