Category: History

Ancient astronomical calculator had Olympic run

Antikythera Mechanism fragment

This image shows a fragment of the Antikythera Mechanism. The right side of the image has the enhancement turned on.

(Credit: Hewlett-Packard)

For all the technology that will go into orchestrating the Beijing Olympics this year, a new report in British science journal Nature is reminding the world where it all began: with a 2,100-year-old gadget that tracked dates of the ancient Olympic games.

Known as the Antikythera Mechanism, the astronomical calculator was discovered by divers in 1901 as one of the artifacts collected from a shipwreck off the coast of Antikythera, Greece. With its 3,000 characters and 30 gears, scientists have come to conclude that the intricate and once technologically advanced device calculated moon, sun, and planet locations for specific dates.
But most recently, the Associate Press reported Wednesday, experts have deciphered the word “Olympia” on the bronze device and discovered that one of its dials kept track of the four-year cycle of the Greek Olympic games.

A researcher told British paper The Telegraph that the team was surprised to find that such a technologically advanced mechanism kept track of an event that could be tracked relatively easily compared with such cosmic events as eclipses. The dial, he said, served not only mathematical purposes, but also represented the harmony between technology and culture.