For several months at least I’ve been reading the coverage about the Antikythera Mechanism – a 2,000 year old machine supposed to have been used to calculate astronomical events.
The delicate workings at the heart of a 2,000-year-old analogue computer have been revealed by scientists. The Antikythera Mechanism, discovered more than 100 years ago in a Roman shipwreck, was used by ancient Greeks to display astronomical cycles.
The BBC has been covering it regularly and every time they do I wonder what happened to this technology? Why did it vanish? Were there other examples? Where could it have lead? Were there other similar technologies from other ancient cultures that were developed only to turn into a dead end?
Today, technologies disappear when they become obsolete – either because a better technology has arrived or because the need they met no longer exists or is no longer important to a culture. What might this ancient device have been replaced by? Or was it a prototype developed by a lone inventor who went down with the ship on which it was discovered? The scientists studying it believe that isn’t the case, but how can we explain or understand the fact that no other examples have been discovered?
No earlier geared mechanism of any sort has ever been found. Nothing close to its technological sophistication appears again for well over a millennium, when astronomical clocks appear in medieval Europe. It stands as a strange exception, stripped of context, of ancestry, of descendants.
Unless and until other examples turn up – or classical descriptions of it are discovered – everything about this device will be open for conjecture. It’s a pretty cool story though and a very cool testament to ingenuity.
[tags]Antikythera Mechanism, technology, ancient, BBC, Nature[/tags]