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?
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 middle-grade chapter book The Convoluted Key, picture book I Own All the Blue, and 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.