The exact purpose behind the Antikythera Mechanism, a 2,000-year-old “computer” discovered in a shipwreck, has always puzzled the modern world. However, after a group of researchers spent more than a decade peering into the fragments of the complex machine, the purpose of the mechanism may have been finally revealed.
The 2,000-year-old machine, which came to be known as the Antikythera Mechanism, has been believed to be an astronomical calculator used by ancient Greeks to chart the movement of the Sun, Moon, and planets. For a machine that’s at least a couple of millennia old, it is certainly an impressive feat. However, researchers, who spent nearly 12 years looking inside the multiple fragments, feel it has a “supernatural” purpose as well, reported the Associated Press.
An undated photo released by the Greek Ministry of Culture shows a diver wearing a robotic Exosuit while exploring the famous Antikythera shipwreck. (EPA/GREEK MINISTRY OF CULTURE)
Researchers believe the mechanism, discovered in a shipwreck by sponge divers in 1900, was used to generate predictions about the future based on the eclipses, and more specifically, their color, shared Mike Edmunds, an astrophysics professor at the University of Cardiff in Wales, who has been working on the project.
Reinforcing the hypothesis, Alexander Jones, a professor of history of ancient science at New York University, said, “The Antikythera Mechanism blurs the line between science and the supernatural, but nonetheless gives a crucial insight into how the ancient Greeks viewed the natural world. It was not a research tool, something that an astronomer would use to do computations, or even an astrologer to do prognostications, but something that you would use to teach about the cosmos and our place in the cosmos. I would see it as more something that might be a philosopher’s instructional device.”
A solar eclipse isn’t a very rare occurrence. There are multiple variations, ranging on just a small sliver of the sun being covered, which is referred to as partial solar eclipse, to the sun being completely obscured by the moon. Depending on the intensity, the colors that appear in the sky vary to a great extent. It is likely the ancient Greeks closely observed the varying colors and attempted to link them with upcoming events. Since astronomy evolved and flourished in the region, it is no surprise the early scholars there tried to predict the future using the celestial events.
The mechanism has certainly baffled many researchers who have attempted to make sense of the highly complex mechanism, especially considering its age. While there’s still a strong debate about its age, many historians agree it was constructed at some point between 60 BCE and 200 BCE, reported Reuters. Time and sea have been brutal to the once beautifully crafted machine. Less than 100 fragments have been recovered from the shipwreck. The multitude of inscriptions has almost completely been removed. Moreover, the complex mechanism had many inscriptions that were just 1.2 millimeters to begin with.
Thanks to cutting-edge X-ray scanning and newly developed imaging technology, researchers were able to confidently speculate that the Antikythera Mechanism was used to predict eclipses, track the movements of the Sun, Moon, and stars, and the positions of the five planets then known to the Greeks: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
Besides astrology and astronomy, the Antikythera Mechanism, which is believed to be at least hundreds, if not thousands of years ahead of its time, may have been used for prophecies as well, reports Phys.org.
Visualizations showing how researchers enhanced images of the eroded inscriptions on the Antikythera Mechanism. (Antikythera Mechanism Research Project)