by Demetra George
The Antikythera Mechanism, a 2000-year old astronomical computer, is one of the most important current discoveries from the ancient world. It sheds light on a critical era of our own astrological history. This sophisticated multi-geared device, which is now dated to the late 3rd century BCE, is the world’s first known analog computer. Its purpose was to calculate and display precise positions of solar, lunar, stellar, and planetary phenomena. It was an eclipse predictor, an astrological tool for erecting charts, and an astronomical teaching device. Unlocking the mystery of this astronomical computer – how does it work, who built it, when, and for what purpose – provides a glimpse into the misty origins of Hellenistic astrology.
Around 65 BCE, a ship set sail from Asia Minor, its cargo overloaded with looted Greek treasures from the Roman conquests of Eastern kingdoms. It carried coins from Pergamum and Ephesus and stopped at the islands of Kos and Rhodes to pick up vessels filled with oil and wine. As it rounded the tip southern Greece, it was caught up in a severe storm and sank near the tiny island of Antikythera. Its treasures remained buried beneath the sea, lost and undisturbed until 1900-01 when the cache was accidentally discovered by Greek sponge divers. Among the trove of glassware and marble and bronze statues were a number of pieces of a bronze geared mechanism, encrusted by two millennia of seashells and limestone accumulations. The fragments of the mechanism were placed in various boxes in the basement of the National Archaeological Museum of Athens and a few pieces eventually went on display with little explanatory commentary.