Monday, August 22, 2005


Antikythera Computer, 56 B.C.



A mystery of the ancient world is delivered from the depths of the ocean.
In 1900, sponge divers discovered a shipwreck in 200 feet of water. Among the historical curiosities to be excavated from the wreck was the earliest geared computer.

Archeologists puzzled over the find until x-ray techniques in the 1950s revealed the secrets of the Antikythera Mechanism. About the size of a shoebox, the unit was a working computer which could calculate the positions of the moon and the five planets known in 56 BC. This is a find without precedent, or for that matter, direct antecedents. From this one device we learn that the Greeks had clock-making capabilities equaling that of 16th-century Europe.

This has the aspect of a clever hoax but no one is calling foul. We simply don’t have the technology to fake a rusted pile of gears and then dig them up—over 100 years ago.

But on that note…through the ages there have been some marvelous fakes. Like the automaton chess player (circa 1770). This humanoid robot played chess—and won—for 85 years. But in the works of the machine, a human chess player was carefully concealed. The human ringer played backwards and upside down using a mirror system, and moved the chess pieces with robot arms. Since the gag went on for so long it was clear that many different players were hired over the years to tour with this oddity.


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