July 31, 2008
Ancient Greek Computer Was Used To Set Olympic Dates
The Antikythera Mechanism, an ancient mechanical brass calculator discovered off the Greek island of Antikythera in 1901, was probably used by the ancient Greeks to set the dates of the first Olympic games, researchers said on Wednesday.
The device is made up of bronze gearwheels and dials, and scientists know of nothing like it until at least 1,000 years later. It is an example of the technological prowess of the ancient Greeks.
Now, a team of researchers reporting in the journal Nature has found that one of the dials records the dates of the ancient Olympiad.
Tony Freeth, a member of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project, said he was "astonished" at the discovery.
"The Olympiad cycle was a very simple, four-year cycle and you don't need a sophisticated instrument like this to calculate it. It took us by huge surprise when we saw this.
"But the Games were of such cultural and social importance that it's not unnatural to have it in the Mechanism."
Using three-dimensional, X-ray technology, researchers deciphered tiny inscriptions buried inside the device's fragmented brass pieces that pointed to its Olympic role.
The name "Nemea" was found near a small dial on the mechanism, a reference to the site of one of the prominent games in the Olympiad cycle, the researchers said. Locations such as Olympia also appeared.
In addition, the team was able to identify the names of all 12 months, which belong to the Corinthian family of months.
Corinth, in central Greece, established colonies in north-western Greece, Corfu and Sicily, where Archimedes was established.
Devices of such complexity were not seen in the West again until the appearance of medieval cathedral clocks.
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