Apr 012014
 
Photo of a fragment of the Antikythera Mechanism by Wikipedia user Marsyas

Fragment A of the Antikythera Mechanism held at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens.
Photo by Wikipedia user Marsyas

Replica of the Antikythera Instrument: Based on the research of Professor Derek de Solla Price, in collaboration with the National Scientific Research Center "Demokritos" and physicist CH Karakalos who carried out the x-ray tomography of the original. This mechanism has been rebuilt to show the likely operation of the original. Price built a rectangular box of 33 cm X 17 cm X 10 cm with protective plates bearing Greek inscriptions of planets and operational information. Photo by Wikipedia user Marsyas (Creative Commons)

A model of the Antikythera Mechanism. Based on the research of Professor Derek de Solla Price, in collaboration with the National Scientific Research Center “Demokritos” and physicist CH Karakalos who carried out the x-ray tomography of the original. This mechanism has been rebuilt to show the likely operation of the original. Price built a rectangular box of 33 cm X 17 cm X 10 cm with protective plates bearing Greek inscriptions of planets and operational information.
Photo by Wikipedia user Marsyas (Creative Commons)

I was pacing the lounge trying to soothe a newborn with reflux, and as she finally began to settle I turned on the TV, and caught the last twenty seconds of a documentary that talked about an ancient Greek artefact that was one of the earliest computers. For a moment I was amazed—the book I had drafted before giving birth had ties to ancient Greece in its backstory. An ancient computer? This sounded like something I could use!

In the fog of nappy changes, feeding my baby, making sure she was the right way up and not about to be turned into a human cannonball by her big brother, along with the sleep interruptions caused by reflux, I forgot about the documentary for a couple of weeks—long enough to have thrown out the TV guide and for any mention of it to have been deleted from the channel’s website. I desperately tried Googling what I thought I remembered of it, to no avail.

I went through editing and revision, and most of a major rewrite of my upcoming book Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin without finding it. Two years after the doco-tease, I began researching elements for an upcoming book—a Steampunk mystery. On a whim, I looked up “Clockwork” on Wikipedia… and there it was: the Antikythera Mechanism. I was so excited I think I danced around the room.

Isn’t it beautiful?

A model of the Antikythera Mechanism. Based on the research of Professor Derek de Solla Price, in collaboration with the National Scientific Research Center "Demokritos" and physicist CH Karakalos who carried out the x-ray tomography of the original. This mechanism has been rebuilt to show the likely operation of the original. Price built a rectangular box of 33 cm X 17 cm X 10 cm with protective plates bearing Greek inscriptions of planets and operational information. Photo by Wikipedia user Mogi Vicentini (Creative Commons Licence)

A model of the Antikythera Mechanism.
Photo by Wikipedia user Mogi Vicentini (Creative Commons Licence)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Antikythera Mechanism is, apparently, a clockwork calculator of planetary positions. It has been dated as being more than 2000 years old. From Wikipedia: “The mechanism was probably built by an mechanic engineer of the school of Posidonius in Rhodes. Cicero, who visited the island in 79/78 B.C. reported that such devices were indeed designed by the Stoic philosopher Posidonius of Apamea. The design of the Antikythera mechanism appears to follow the tradition of Archimedes’ planetarium, and may be related to sundials. His modus operandi is based on the use of gears. The machine is dated around 89 B.C. and comes from the wreck found off the island of Antikythera.”

Although I didn’t use it in the first Maddie book, it might well make an appearance somewhere in the rest of the series. And I will probably make use of part of its design in my Steampunk book.

If you want to read more detail (a lot more detail) about the Antikythera Mechanism, that Wikipedia article is awesome, and also includes images of the conceptual computer-generated graphics of the mechanism created by Tony Freeth that I can’t show here for copyright reasons.

Elle Carter Neal is the author of the picture book I Own All the Blue and the teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, holding childhood slumber-party audiences entranced until the early hours of the morning. Elle decided to be an author the day she discovered that real people wrote books and that writing books was a real job. Join Elle on her new publishing adventure.

  12 Responses to “What is the Antikythera Mechanism?”

  1. I have never heard of this mechanism, so it was quite fascinating to learn about it. Greek history was an interesting topic in school, so I am sure some kids might find this info helpful for a project they might be researching. I am stopping by because you are below me on the A to Z Challenge List, so I just wanted to say hello. I hope you have fun during the challenge.

    • Thanks for visiting, Julia 🙂 I think the challenge is going to be great fun; there seems to be a wonderful vibe already. The Wikipedia page on this is awesome. Mind you, I could spend hours on Wikipedia 🙂

  2. I found you off the Challenge list, Elle. Great post. We tend to think that the ancients were less intelligent. I wonder if the opposite is true? 🙂

    Laura
    For the Love of Storytelling

    • Hi Laura, thanks for stopping by 🙂

      I think you are right–we are missing a lot of information about ancient times, and I often wonder what wealth of knowledge we lost with the Library of Alexandria. It makes for plenty of fiction fodder, though.

  3. I actually had heard of the antikythera-mechanism before, but I’ve got a hubby and two sons sci-fi, dystopian, science-mad! Totally sympathize with you on the reflux garbage. Ugh. Great A to Z beginning Ellie!

    LuAnn Braley
    AJ’s Hooligans @AtoZChallenge
    Back Porchervations

  4. And we think we’re so smart here in the 21st century. The amount of knowledge gained, used, and then lost over the centuries is unbelievable. It’s very cool that you were able to finally find the information you wanted on Wikipedia.

    Congratulations on the little one in spite of the reflux. My oldest kept me awake for three months while he screamed his way to the other side of colic. It’s not fun.

  5. Stopping by from the A-Z Challenge. I love the article about the ancient computer. I had no idea that they had something that calculated the planetary positions way back then. It was a very interesting read and I definitely learned something new today.

    Sean at His and Her Hobbies

  6. Wow, very fascinating! When is your steampunk book out? What is its title?

  7. Hi Gail,

    My steampunk book is still in the planning stage. I have two other books in the pipeline that are likely to be out before that one. And I’m a little superstitious about declaring titles publicly in the early stages of a book’s life. But stick around–you’ll find out soon! 😉

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