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2,000-Year-Old Greek Device Is The World’s Oldest Analog Computer

by rrollins, September 15, 2021

Image via Rachel Blackman / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Neither micro nor soft: This intricate, shipwrecked device unearthed by divers in 1901 was used by ancient Greeks to track planet alignments and predict astronomical events some 2,000 years back. Thanks to its sophisticated design, the handheld equipment is often regarded as “the world’s oldest computer.”

It’s called the Greek Antikythera Mechanism, named after its discovery off the coast of the island of Antikythera in Greece. To operate it, the user would wind its bejeweled hands with a handle on the side, notes the Smithsonian Magazine.

It has also been suggested that the tool might have been used to follow the four-year cycle of athletic games similar to the ancient Olympics.

Image via Tilemahos Efthimiadis / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Found housed in a wooden box, what’s left of the mechanism are 82 disjointed fragments. As parts of it are missing, scientists are still vexed over how the technology works.

However, a team of researchers at University College London think they have an idea. In a study published this year, they described having designed a theoretical model to explain the mechanism at the front. Supposedly rooted in ideologies from Babylonian astronomy, Plato mathematics and Greek astronomy, the tool was one “complex 3D puzzle,” as they called it.

The mechanism is said to have been constructed with 30 interlocking bronze gears, which, when wound up, told the user about the “motions of the Sun, Moon and all five planets,” according to the paper. As the Greeks believed that the Earth was the center of the universe, the mechanical computer was built to represent that.

“Ours is the first model that conforms to all the physical evidence and matches the descriptions in the scientific inscriptions engraved on the Mechanism itself,” lead author Tony Freeth described in the news release. “The Sun, Moon and planets are displayed in an impressive tour de force of ancient Greek brilliance.”

An X-Ray of the Greek Antikythera Mechanism, which shows the gears inside. It is the world’s oldest analogue computer, made 2000+ years ago. from


[via r/interestingasfuck and Smithsonian Magazine, images via various sources]

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