World’s Oldest Computer Is Older Than Previously Believed

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
The Antikythera Mechanism, an ancient Greek astronomical calculator believed to be the first computer ever, is as much as 100 years older than originally believed, according to new research appearing in the latest edition of the Archive for History of Exact Science.
The device, which Ellie Zolfagharifard of the Daily Mail describes as “an ancient Greek mechanism that modeled the known universe 2,000 years ago,” had previously been placed to between 100 to 150 BC by radiocarbon dating. However, researchers have now discovered that an eclipse prediction calendar located on the mechanism includes a reference to a solar eclipse that took place in May 205 BC.
The authors of the new paper, University of Puget Sound physics professor Dr. James Evans and University of Quilmes history of science professor Christián Carman, studied both the Antikythera Mechanism and Babylonian records of eclipses over the course of several years before reaching their conclusion. Their findings also indicate that the ancient Greeks were able to predict eclipses, and were able to engineer the complex machine at an earlier stage than first thought, said Kukil Bora of International Business Times.
“The study also supports the idea that the eclipse prediction scheme was not based on Greek trigonometry – which was nonexistent in 205 BC – but on Babylonian arithmetical methods, borrowed by the Greeks,” Bora added. “The dating of the Antikythera Mechanism’s creation also supports an old belief that Archimedes created a similar mechanism, which was carried back to Rome by the Roman general Marcellus… in 212 BC.”
Eighty-two rusty bronze fragments originating from the device were found more than a century ago in a Roman shipwreck off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera, for which it was named. In 2006, a team of US, UK and Greek scientists used specially developed X-ray scanning and imaging technology to analyze the corroded bronze, first discovering hidden machinery and a type of written user’s manual belonging to the device.
At the time, Cardiff University astronomy professor and project leader Mike Edmunds said the 82 fragments that survived had been dated to between 140 BC and 100 BC, included over 30 gear wheels, and were covered with “astronomical, mathematical and mechanical inscriptions.” In addition to predicting eclipses, the box-shaped mechanism “showed the position of the sun and moon in the zodiac, the phase of the moon, and we believe also it may have shown the position of some of the planets, possibly just Venus and Mercury.”
Now, however, the research of Evans and Carman revealed the revised 205 BC date by eliminating dates during which the eclipse patterns of the Antikythera Mechanism matched up with Babylonian records as reconstructed by John Steele of Brown University, the University of Puget Sound explained in a statement Tuesday. Their calculations also took into account lunar and solar anomalies, missing solar eclipses, lunar and solar eclipse cycles, and other astronomical phenomena.
Two great mysteries continue to surround the device, according to John Markoff of the New York Times: Who built the Antikythera Mechanism, and where was it made? Six years ago, a research team reported that language inscribed on the device suggested it had been manufactured in either Corinth or Syracuse, where Archimedes lived.
However, Markoff explained, “Archimedes was killed by a Roman soldier in 212 BC, while the commercial grain ship carrying the mechanism is believed to have sunk sometime between 85 and 60 BC,” meaning that it seems unlikely that the device was directly connected to the Ancient Greek mathematician and inventor. An inscription on one of the dials refers to an athletic competition that was held in Rhodes, one researcher noted.
“If we were all taking bets about where it was made, I think I would bet what most people would bet, in Rhodes,” Alexander Jones, a specialist in the history of ancient mathematical scientists at New York University, told the New York Times. However, Dr. Evans said he remained dubious about attempting to identify its inventor, adding that it was “probably safer not to try to hang it on any one particular famous person.”
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