Antikythera Mechanism: A Two-Thousand-Year-Old Computer?
By | July 20, 2019
Computers are largely thought of as a 20th-century invention. After all, computers require electricity and that wasn’t harnessed until the 19th century. However, our ancestors have proven many times that they could work well with what they had. That seems to be the case with the Antikythera mechanism, which is more than two thousand years old and believed to be the world’s first computer.
First discovered in 1900 among the wreckage of a two-thousand-year-old vessel off the coast of the Greek island Antikythera, this mechanism consists of a series of brass gears and dials mounted into a wooden box. For decades, scholars were at a loss to explain what the device was and what it was used for. Then in 1959, Princeton science historian Derek J. de Solla Price was able to shine some light on the mystery.
After a careful analysis of the device, Price determined that it was used to replicate the movement of the planets and stars in the sky based upon the current month. The person operating the device would use the main gear to set the date and this would turn the other gears to the correct positions of the planets and stars. Price compared it to a “modern analog computer which uses mechanical parts to save tedious calculation.” Unlike computers of today whose programs are written in digital code, the Antikythera mechanism’s code was based upon the ratio of its gears. It had this in common with mechanical calculators, which did not arrive in Europe until the 1600s and used gear ratios to add and subtract.