Antikythera Mechanism: How It Was Found and How It Wasn’t Scrapped

By | May 17, 2023

On May 17, 1902, the determination of the crew of a sponge ship and the observation, first by Vice-Captain Rediadis and a few months later by the Minister of Education Spyridon Stais, saved from obscurity a unique find of archaeological, technological and scientist. value: the Antikythera Mechanism.

This mechanism received its name due to the location in which it was discovered (northwest of Antikythera). It is an ancient analog computer, an ingenious invention from ancient times to calculate and display the movements of celestial bodies, the position of the sun and moon and predict their eclipses, as well as calculate dates. But it probably had many other functions still unknown to us.

“EL PASO”, 4.1.1959, Historical Archive “EL PASO” | “NEWS”

How was it found?

Epaminondas Bambouris writes in “VIMA” of January 4, 1959:

“It belonged to an ancient ship that sank in Antikythera in the first century BC. While transporting Rome from various parts of Greece, they snatched up art treasures.


“Finding it is very interesting. On November 6, 1900, a Symi sponge boat from Fokas Lendiakou, captained by D. Konton and a crew of twelve sailors and seven divers, while fishing off the northwest coast of the island, discovered a depth of 35 fathoms a lot of marble and bronze statues, covered with huge rocks, shells and algae, of which it attracted some.

“These good Greek sailors, with unimaginable generosity, sent what they had found to the Ministry of Education and asked to send a ship with powerful winches, because, as they reported, ancient objects lay at the bottom, one on top of the other. another, next to a shipwreck, and covered by large rocks.

“EL PASO”, 10.1.1959, Historical Archive “EL PASO” | “NEWS”

This is how the Greek archaeological service began what is probably the world’s first underwater excavation.

“Among the findings raised was the machine that Dr. Price discussed with the American scientist. (ps British Professor Derek de Sola Price, physicist and historian of science, paved the way, in 1959, for the detailed study and decipherment of the Antikythera Mechanism).

“This was found near the wreckage surrounded by fossils and shells. The diver who found it suspected from a metal point that it was something and broke it free from the other pieces on the bottom with a hammer and sent it to the surface.

Professor Price with a model of the Antikythera Mechanism

Rediadis’ saving intervention

“When he reached the deck of the “Mykali”, the non-commissioned officer who transferred the hoisted objects thought it was useless and wanted to throw it into the sea.

“However, by chance, the then vice-captain and then Admiral Rediadis was found next to him, who kept it to inquire about it.

“From the investigation we did, he was amazed, because he discovered that it was a maritime instrument from the sunken ship, unknown until then and an amazing contribution to the history of maritime science.

“It was what he called a ‘mechanical astrolabe’. It consists of 2 metal plates on which a system of cogwheels with unequal radii was applied, with names of constellations, astronomical terms, units, signs of the zodiac, etc., of the It follows that a toothed wheel drives the other wheels and the spokes with the help of a crank to keep the stars, the Earth and the Moon around the Sun in their exact positions and to facilitate the location of the position of the ship.

Findings of the “Antikythera Mechanism

the second ransom

However, despite the saving intervention of Vice Admiral Rediadis, the Antikythera Mechanism was once again in danger. This time on land:

“The machine was sent to the Ethnological Museum, where it was almost lost for the second time, because the people who thought of it, like the non-commissioned officer of the “Mykalis”, had thrown it out the door of the Museum in the garbage, and where it was found collected by the then Minister of Education Stais, who was also the main agent of the investigations into the Antikythera fund”.

Completely coincidental, Spyridon Stais, during his visit to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, noticed the mechanism among other unappraised bronze finds.

“Then the machine was studied by many historians, sailors, archaeologists and astronomers and despite the fact that it had been crushed at the bottom by the volumes of marble that crushed it and by the diver who found it and had destroyed a large part of its metallic structure indications and inscriptions, from its remaining elements it became possible to write complete monographs of the late P. Rediadin, K. Radon, I. Theofanidin and others and to represent their original form to the extent that both maritime science and its The basic mechanical instruments developed incredibly during the ancient era”.

Detail of a model of the Antikythera Mechanism

Decryption attempt continues

The Antikythera Mechanism, preserved in the National Archaeological Museum, continues to be the subject of international research.

The difficulty in deciphering it and determining its functions lies in the fact that only a third of the Mechanism is estimated to have survived, and that is in 82 fragments.
Since 2005, the use of X-rays has led to the revelation of thousands of characters of text hidden within the fragments. Among other things, the inscriptions include a description of the Cosmos, with the planets moving in rings.

One of the groups studying the mechanism is the six-member Antikythera Research Team at University College London (UCL), which includes archaeometallurgist Myrto Georgakopoulou and physicist Aris Dakanalis.

According to Aris Dakanalis: “Classical astronomy of the first millennium BC was born in Babylon, but there is nothing in this astronomy that shows how the ancient Greeks managed to find the high-precision cycle of 462 years for Venus and 442 years for Saturn.” .

After many years of research and using an ancient Greek mathematical method described by the philosopher Parmenides, the researchers managed not only to explain how the Greeks found the cycles of Venus and Saturn, but also to recreate the cycles of all the other planets of the Mechanism. , for which relevant data has been lost.

As stated in 2021, Dr Adam Wojcik from UCL’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

“This is a significant theoretical advance in terms of how the World was represented in the Mechanism. Now we have to test its applicability by doing it with old techniques.”

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