The Temporary Exhibition of the Mechanism and the Antikythera shipwreck...>>
   
 
   
 

The function of the Antikythera Mechanism

Most of metal parts of the original Mechanism seem to have been cut from sheets of low-tin bronze. The complex assembly of gear wheels resulted in the output of three main dials, one at the front and two at the back. The front dial had two concentric scales, one fixed ring with the names of the signs of the zodiac and one movable with the months of the Egyptian calendar (365 days). A pointer, probably topped with small gold sphere, used to show the motion and the position of the Sun, while another one with probably a silver sphere at the end, showed the motion and the position of the Moon. The existence of a third pointer is almost sured and represented the risings and settings of the five known planets throughout the year. On the top and the bottom of this main dial were inscriptions known as a parapegma, which is an astral calendar tracing the rising and setting of stars and constellations in the annual cycle.

Key numbers inscribed on two fragments (fragment 19 and E), for example the numbers ΙΘ (19), ΟC (76), ΣΚΓ (223) and ΣΛΕ (235) corresponding to astronomical cycles, which deal with the phases of the Moon, that is the Metonic, Callippic, and Saros Cycles. On the back side of the Mechanism there were two dials. The upper back dial is arranged as a five-turn spiral, divided in 235 parts, corresponding to 235 lunar months, that is 19 years, the Metonic Cycle. The restoration of a subsidiary display of the 76-year cycle, the Callippic Cycle, is a conjecture, based on the fragmentary inscription mentioned above. The Callippic Cycle improved the Metonic Cycle. The subsidiary Olympic dial, which is shown inside the Metonic dial, was a four-year dial predicting the dates of the Pan-Hellenic games. The lower back dial consists of a four-turn spiral, divided on 223 parts, corresponding to 223 lunar months, illustrating the Saros cycle, an 18-year calendar, which predicts the solar and lunar eclipses. Inside the Saros dial there is a smaller subsidiary dial, the Exeligmos dial. This is a 54-year triple Saros dial, which predicts the eclipses with absolute accuracy.

The turning of a handle through the side of the Mechanism moved all pointers simultaneously by means of gears and axles connecting them. By selecting a specific day on the front dial with the calendar and the desired year and month on the upper back dial, the rest of the pointers supplied all the corresponding information. Conversely, by setting the pointer on an astronomical event, its date in the future or in the past was furnished.

The Antikythera Mechanism is the most precious piece of ancient technology to have survived. It demonstrates the philosophical and geocentric approach of most ancient Greek thinkers towards the world and its structure according to which mathematics and physics were the means for deciphering the universe.

Bibliography: P.D. Rediadis, O εξ Αντικυθήρων αστρόλαβος, in: Ι.N. Σβορώνος, Το εν Αθήναις Εθνικόν Μουσείον. Ο θησαυρός του ναυαγίου των Αντικυθήρων, Athens 1903, Vol. Α, 44-52. P.D. Rediadis, Το εξ Αντικυθήρων αστρολάβον, ΑΕ 1910, 157-172. D.J. de Solla Price, Clockwork before the Clock, Horological Journal 97 (1955) 811-813. D.J. de Solla Price, Clockwork before the Clock, Horological Journal 98 (1956) 31-34. D.J. de Solla Price, On the Origin of Clockwork, Perpetual Motion Devices and Compass, United States National Museum Bulletin 218, Washington D.C. 1959. D.J. de Solla Price, An Ancient Greek Computer, Scientific American 200 (1959) 60-67. D.J. de Solla Price, Gears from the Greeks: The Antikythera Mechanism - A Calendar Computer from ca. 80 B.C., TransactAmPhilosSoc 64.7 (1974) 5-70, reprinted as a monograph by the Science History Publications, New York 1975. M.Τ. Wright, An Apparatus for Linear Tomography of the Antikythera Mechanism, Working notes, Science Museum, London 1990. M.T. Wright - A.G. Bromley - H. Magou, Simple X-Ray Tomography and the Antikythera Mechanism, Proceedings of the Second Conference of Archaeometry in South Eastern Europe in Delphi, 19-21 April 1991, PACT 45 (1995) 531-543. M. Wright - A.G. Bromley, Current Work on the Antikythera Mechanism, Proceedings of the Conference on Ancient Greek Technology, Thessaloniki 1997, 19-25. G.J. Toomer, Ptolemy's Almagest, Princeton 1998. Μ. Edmunds - Ρ. Morgan, The Antikythera Mechanism: Still a Μystery of Greek Αstronomy?, Astronomy and Geophysics 41.6 (2000) 10-17. Τ. Freeth, The Antikythera Mechanism: 1. Challenging the Classic Research, Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 2.1 (2002) 21-35. Τ. Freeth, The Antikythera Mechanism: 2. Is it Posidonius'Orrery?, Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 2.2 (2002) 45-58. M.Τ. Wright, A Planetarium Display for the Antikythera Mechanism, Horological Journal 144.5 (2002) 168-173 and 144.6 (2002) 193. M.Τ. Wright, Epicyclic Gearing and the Antikythera Mechanism, Part 1, Antiquarian Horology 27.3 (2003) 267-279. M.Τ. Wright, In the Steps of the Master Mechanic, in: Ancient Greece and the Modern World, Proceedings of a Conference in Ancient Olympia 2002, University of Patras 2003, 86-97. M.T. Wright - A.G. Bromley, Towards a New Reconstruction of the Antikythera Mechanism, in: S.A. Paipetis (ed.), Extraordinary Machines and Structures in Antiquity, Proceedings of a Conference of Archaeometry in South Eastern Europe in Ancient Olympia 2001, University of Patras 2003, 81-94. M.Τ. Wright, The Scholar, The Mechanic and the Antikythera Mechanism: Complementary Approaches to the Study of an Instrument, Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society 80 (2004) 4-11. M.Τ. Wright, The Antikythera Mechanism, Seminars in the History of Science and Technology, Science Museum and Imperial College, December 2004. M.Τ. Wright, The Antikythera Mechanism: a New Gearing Scheme, Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society 85 (2005) 2-7. M.Τ. Wright, Ο Μηχανισμός των Αντικυθήρων. Η κατασκευή οργάνων στην αρχαιότητα, Αρχαιολογία και Τέχνες 95 (2005) 54-60. M.T. Wright, Epicyclic gearing and the Antikythera Mechanism, Part 2, Antiquarian Horology 29.2 (2005) 51-63. Μ.Τ. Wright, Counting Months and Years: The Upper Back Dial of the Antikythera Mechanism, Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society 87 (2005) 8-13. M.T. Wright, Understanding the Antikythera Mechanism, Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Ancient Greek Technology, Athens 2005, 49-60. T. Freeth - Υ. Bitsakis - Χ. Moussas - J.H. Seiradakis - Α. Tselikas - Η. Mangou - Μ. Zafeiropoulou - R. Hadland - D. Bate - Α. Ramsey - Μ. Allen - Α. Crawley - Ρ. Hockley - Τ. Malzbender - D. Gelb - W. Ambrisco - M.G. Edmunds, Decoding the Ancient Greek Astronomical Calculator known as the Antikythera Mechanism, Nature 444 (11/2006) 587-591. M.T. Wright, The Antikythera Mechanism and the Early History of the Moon-Phase Display, Horological Journal 29.3 (2006) 319-329. J.M. Steele, The Solar/lunar Functions of the Antikythera Mechanism in the Context of Mesopotamian and Greek Astronomy, στο: Decoding the Antikythera Mechanism, Conference in Athens, 30th November - 1st December 2006. J. Evans - L. Berggren, Geminos's Introduction to the Phenomena: A Translation and Study of a Hellenistic Survey of Astronomy, Princeton 2006. M.Τ. Wright, The Antikythera Mechanism Reconsidered, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 32.1 (2007) 27-43. T. Freeth - A. Jones - J.M. Steele - Y. Bitsakis, Calendars with Olympiad Display and Eclipse Prediction on the Antikythera Mechanism, Nature 454 (07/2008) 614-617. M. Zafeiropoulou - P. Mitropoulos, The Antikythera Shipwreck, the Treasure and the Fragments of the Mechanism, στον τόμο: IUHPS/DHST, Book of Abstracts, XXIII International Congress of History of Science and Technology, Ideas and Instruments in Social Context, 28.7 - 2.8 2009, Budapest Hungary, Budapest 2009, 221. T. Freeth, Decoding an Ancient Computer, Scientific American 301.6 (12/2009) 76-83. F. Espenak - J. Meeus, Five Millennium Canon of Lunar Eclipses: -1999 to +3000 (2000 BCE to 3000 CE), National Aeronautics and Space Administration, online at http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEpubs/5MCLE.html (2009). J. Evans - C.C. Carman - A.S. Thorndike, Solar Anomaly and Planetary Displays in the Antikythera Mechanism, Journal for the History of the Astronomy 41 (02/2010) 1-39. M.T. Wright, The Antikythera Mechanism: Reconstruction as a Medium for Research and Publication, in: Κ. Staubermann (ed.), Reconstructions, National Museums Scotland 2011, 1-20. M. Edmunds, An Initial Assessment of the Accuracy of the Gear Train in the Antikythera Mechanism, Journal for the History of Astronomy 42.148 (2011) 307-320. X. Moussas, «Πίναξ». Το Πρώτο Μηχανικό Σύμπαν. Ο Μηχανισμός των Αντικυθήρων. Ο αρχαιότερος υπολογιστής και αστρονομικό όργανο, Athens 2011. T. Freeth - A. Jones, The Cosmos in the Antikythera Mechanism, ISAW Papers, 4. To be available at http://dlib.nyu.edu/awdl/isaw/isaw-papers/4 (2012).
Contributions, R. Proskynitopoulou, Ε. Magou, Μ. Zapheiropoulou, in: Ν. Kaltsas - Ε. Vlachogianni - P. Bouyia (eds), The Antikythera Shipwreck. The Ship - The Treasures - The Mechanism, Exhibition Catalogue, National Archaeological Museum, April 2012-April 2013, Athens 2012.

 
 
 
 
 
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