07 Jun 2006

Antikythera Mechanism

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The Antikythera Mechanism was a specialty of a good friend on the Yale faculty, the late Derek de Solla Price, and he often talked about the intriguing questions connected with the object recovered by sponge divers off the Greek Island of Antikythera in 1900, part of shipwreck dated to around 87 B.C.

Physorg.com reports that significant new progress has been made in reading the Greek inscriptions on the device.

A team of Greek and British scientists probing the secrets of the Antikythera Mechanism has managed to decipher ancient Greek inscriptions unseen for over 2,000 years, members of the project say.

“Part of the text on the machine, over 1,000 characters, had already been deciphered, but we have succeeded in doubling this total,” said physician Yiannis Bitsakis, part of a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from universities in Athens, Salonika and Cardiff, the Athens National Archaeological Museum and the Hewlett-Packard company.

“We have now deciphered 95 percent of the text,” he told AFP.

Scooped out of a Roman shipwreck located in 1900 by sponge divers near the southern Greek island of Antikythera, and kept at the Athens National Archaeological Museum, the Mechanism contains over 30 bronze wheels and dials, and is covered in astronomical inscriptions.

Probably operated by crank, it survives in three main pieces and some smaller fragments.

“(The device) could calculate the position of certain stars, at least the Sun and Moon, and perhaps predict astronomical phenomena,” said astrophysicist Xenophon Moussas of Athens University.

“It was probably rare, if not unique,” he added.

The rarity of the Antikythera Mechanism precluded its removal from the museum, so an eight-tonne ‘body scanner’ had to be assembled on-site for the privately-funded project, which used three-dimensional tomography to expose the unseen inscriptions.

The first appraisal of the Mechanism’s purpose was put forward in the 1960s by British science historian Derek Price.

Wikipedia

Antikythera Mechanism Research Project

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