Enigma of ancient world’s computer is cracked at last by experts using state-of-the-art technology > The Antikythera Mechanism demonstrates the motion of the Sun, Moon and planets, and can calculate calendars or astrological events
A 2,100-year-old clockwork machine whose remains were retrieved from a shipwreck more than a century ago has turned out to be the celestial super-computer of the ancient world. Using 21st-century technology to peer beneath the surface of the encrusted gearwheels, stunned scientists say the so-called Antikythera Mechanism could predict the ballet of the Sun and Moon over decades and calculate a lunar anomaly that would bedevil Isaac Newton himself.
Built in Greece around 150-100 BC and possibly linked to the astronomer and mathematician Hipparchus, its complexity was probably unrivaled for at least a thousand years, they say.
«It’s beautifully designed. Your jaw drops when you work out what they did and what they put into this,» said astronomer Mike Edmunds of Cardiff University, Wales, in an interview. «It implies that the Greeks had great technical sophistication.»
The Antikythera Mechanism is named after its place of discovery, where Greek divers, exploring a Roman shipwreck at a depth of 42 meters (136 feet) in 1901, came across 82 curious bronze fragments. At first, these pieces, thickly encrusted and jammed together after lying more two millennia on the sea floor, lay forgotten. But a closer look showed them to be exquisitely made, hand-cut, toothed gearwheels.
It was clear that, within this find, 29 gearwheels fitted together, possibly making some sort of astronomical calendar. But of what, exactly? For a quarter of a century, the textbook on the strange find was a work written by a historian of science and technology, Derek de Solla Price. He hypothesized that the mechanism in fact had 31 gearwheels, and did something pretty astonishing, linked the solar year with a 19-year cycle in the phases of the Moon. This is the Metonic cycle, which takes the Moon 235 lunar months to the same phase on the same date in the year.
Edmunds’s team of experts from Britain, Greece and the United States has taken the tale several chapters forward. In a paper published on Thursday in Nature, they describe how they used three-dimensional X-Ray computation tomography and high-resolution surface imaging to peek beneath the Mechanism’s surface without damaging the priceless artifact. There, they read inscriptions on the bronze cogs that had been unseen by human eye since that Roman ship came to grief eons before.
The original device, they believe, is likely to have comprised 37 gear-wheels and comprised two clock-like faces, one front and one back, which would have fitted into a slim wooden box measuring 31.5 x 19 cm (12.5 x 7.5 inches) and a thickness of 10 cms (4 inches).
The machine was a 365-day calendar which ingeniously factored in the leap year every four years. It not only provided the Metonic cycle, which was known to the Babylonians, it also gave the so-called Callippic cycle, which is four Metonic cycles minus one day and reconciles the solar year with the lunar calendar. It could also predict lunar and solar eclipses under the Saros cycle, a 223-month repetitive interplay of the Sun, Earth and Moon.
This function, presumably, would have been useful for religious purposes, given that eclipses are traditionally taken as omens. The machine was also a star almanac, showing the times when the major stars and constellations of the Greek zodiac would rise or set and may also have shown the positions of the planets.
But even more impressive is a tiny pin-and-slot device that factors in a movement of the Moon that, for centuries, puzzled sky-watchers. In this so-called main lunar anomaly, the Moon appears to move across the heavens at different speeds at different times, the reason being its elliptical orbit around Earth. «Newton used to say he would think about this until his head hurt,» notes Edmunds, wryly. This latter discovery prompts the scientists to wonder if the great Hipparchus, who drew up the first catalogue of the stars and wrote about the lunar anomaly in the 2nd century BC, may have had a hand in designing the mechanism.
Adding circumstantial evidence to this theory is that the shipwreck was found to have jars and coins from Rhodes, where Hipparchus lived.
The computer is so advanced in its mathematics and technology that the history of ancient Greece may have to be rewritten, contends Edmunds.
«We now must ask: What else could they do? That’s a difficult thing, because this is really the only surviving metallic artifact of its kind. Who knows what else may be lost?»
It was not until the end of the first millennium AD and the golden age of Islamic science that anything so technologically wondrous surfaced again, if the archaeological evidence is a guide. This was an eight-geared astrolabe, depicting the movements of the Sun and Earth, by the Islamic astronomer al-Biruni in AD 996. Had the Greeks’ knowledge somehow survived and been transmitted across the centuries, to inspire al-Biruni? Or had it withered away and disappeared, leaving Islamic scholars with the task of rediscovering what had been known a thousand years before?
Events build bridge between Greece and Austria December 2, 2006Posted by grhomeboy in Hellenic Light Europe.
Greek composer Leonidas Kottakis, whose work is being performed tonight at the Vienna Museum of History and Art.
Vienna has been hosting a week with a Greek flavor under the aegis of the Austrian and Greek Culture Ministries, the Culture Directorate of the Greek Foreign Ministry and the Austrian and Greek Embassies. The events, which started on November 27 and end tonight, Saturday, have highlighted the cultural links between the two countries.
The exhibition “Coins and Poetry: C.P. Cavafy” opened at the Vienna Museum of History and Art, which has the oldest coin collection in Europe. Gunter Dembski, Director of the Numismatic Museum there, and Professor Stefanos Geroulaos, who has studied the subject for many years, curated the exhibition. The lavish catalog was sponsored by the Alexandros S. Onassis Foundation. The coins on display depict historical figures who inspired Cavafy’s poems, 77 of which refer to 180 characters from history. The coins came from the Numismatic Museum in Athens and the Cabinet des Medailes of the National Library in Paris, while the photographic material is from the Cavafy Archive and the Benaki Museum.
The week, which included readings and lectures, ends tonight in the Bassanosaal of the Museum, with an evening dedicated to individuals of Greek origin who played an important role in the musical life of 19th and 20th century Vienna, such as Nikolaos Doumbas, Dimitris Mitropoulos and Nikos Skalkottas. The evening will close with a work composed by Leonidas Kottakis for the exhibition. The music will be performed by Theodoris Tzovanakis (piano), Angeliki Kathariou (mezzo soprano), Sofia Kyanidou (soprano), Petros Stergiopoulos (flute) and Yiannis Tsitselikis (cello).
An exhibition honoring writer Penelope Delta December 2, 2006Posted by grhomeboy in Books Life Greek.
The Athens College school could not have found a better way to celebrate its 80th anniversary than with its exhibition honoring Penelope Delta as a writer and a woman of self-denial, daring and vision.
Delta worked to promote her dream that every Greek boy and girl should have a proper education and access to books. It is not by chance that she, her father Emmanouil Benakis and above all her husband Stefanos Deltas were behind the success of the college.
Many people visited the college on Wednesday for the opening of the exhibition, titled “Once upon a Time Lived Penelope Delta.” In the college’s theater are works created by 150 artists who responded to the college’s invitation to create a new work inspired by Delta and her heroic world.
Wednesday’s host was Alexandros Samaras, chairman of the board of the Greek-American Educational Foundation (Athens College-Psychico College), a successful architect and the great-grandson of Penelope and Stefanos Deltas. Samaras showed Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis around the exhibition, which was curated by Iris Kritikou. Half the proceeds from the sale of the works will go to the college’s scholarship fund, which gives about 400 children a year the chance to study at the school, as Anastassia Papachela-Stoupathi, the fund’s president, explained.
The exhibition, which continues to December 20, links the past with the present, reminding us of a great Greek woman whose books kept us all company in the past, and continue to do so today.
To see the lucky charm… December 2, 2006Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Greece, Arts Exhibitions Greece.
Those who wanted to be the first to see the lucky charm Ilias Lalaounis has created for New Year’s 2007 gathered at the Lalaounis store in Kifissia on Thursday evening.
Hostess Aikaterini Lalaouni presented the new charm, which represents the 17th-century-BC Phaestos Disc, from the Archaeological Museum of Iraklion. The 242 signs arranged in a spiral shape on both sides of the disc, found 99 years ago, are still being deciphered.
Greece is largest student exporter December 2, 2006Posted by grhomeboy in Education.
Figures released yesterday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) showed that Greece has proportionally more students studying abroad than any other country.
According to the OECD, there are 51,138 Greeks studying at foreign universities, the sixth highest overall. But when the size of the country’s population is taken into account, Greece is by far the largest exporter of students.
Greece has 4,784 students abroad for every 1 million inhabitants. The next country on the list is South Korea which has 2,008 students in foreign institutions for every million South Koreans.
Most Greek students (22,826) are at British universities. France is the next most popular destination, with 7,577 Greeks studying there.
Meanwhile, in Greece, as entrance requirements for universities and technical colleges become more stringent, figures indicate that more students are looking to undergo their tertiary education at private vocational training colleges (IEKs).
The head of the Greek Organization for Vocational Education and Training (OEEK), Haralambos Botsaris said that there has been a 17.5 percent increase in the number of enrollments at IEKs this year.
“The impressive thing is that there is greater interest in traditional professions like plumbing, accounting and hairdressing,” said Botsaris.
Olive oil helps to fight disease December 2, 2006Posted by grhomeboy in Food Greece, Health & Fitness.
Olive oil lovers and medical experts stressed, during a conference in Athens yesterday, the benefits to people’s health from consuming the oil, including reducing the risk of death among diabetes sufferers.
Recent studies have shown that consuming olive oil helps to reduce blood pressure and the possibility of a person suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, said Antonia Trichopoulou, a professor at Athens Medical School.
Tests have also shown that people who suffer a heart attack are 31 percent less likely to die if they have been consuming olive oil as part of a Mediterranean diet.
The president of the Greek Olive Oil Society (Filaios), Paraskevas Tokouzbalidis, said that the average Greek consumes 18 kilos of olive oil a year but he added that harmful hydrogenated fats had begun to creep into the Greeks’ diet.
Funding of stadium secured December 2, 2006Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece, Sports & Games.
The aspirations of Panathinaikos for a new complex in central Athens to house its soccer, basketball and volleyball divisions edged closer to reality yesterday with a Finance Ministry pledge to the City of Athens for the provision of funds, early next year, that are expected to cover the project’s cost.
Work on the project, budgeted at 127 million euros, will begin in the new year, outgoing Athens Mayor Theodoros Behrakis said yesterday. He will be succeeded by the newly elected mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis on January 1. Both received a joint pledge from Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis at a meeting yesterday.
Panathinaikos, one of Greece’s biggest clubs, hopes that the project, to be located in Votanikos, just over one kilometer from Omonia Square, will be ready for its centennial year in 2008.
The project’s plan also entails the transformation of Panathinaikos’s traditional base, the Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium, into a park. It is situated in downtown Ambelokipi, one of the capital’s most congested regions, at Alexandras Avenue. The existing stadium often is referred as “Alexandras Stadium” instead of the official name “Apostolos Nikolaidis”.