Thursday, February 28, 2008

It isn't "the wisdom" of the ancients that I find impressive...

It's the skills.

Mysteries of computer from 65BC are solved

From The Guardian:
A 2,000-year-old mechanical computer salvaged from a Roman shipwreck has astounded scientists who have finally unravelled the secrets of how the sophisticated device works.

The machine was lost among cargo in 65BC when the ship carrying it sank in 42m of water off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera. By chance, in 1900, a sponge diver called Elias Stadiatos discovered the wreck and recovered statues and other artifacts from the site.
Some of the current era's most advanced technology had to be used to solve the riddle of what exactly this ancient piece of technology was.
Using modern computer x-ray tomography and high resolution surface scanning, a team led by Mike Edmunds and Tony Freeth at Cardiff University peered inside fragments of the crust-encased mechanism and read the faintest inscriptions that once covered the outer casing of the machine. Detailed imaging of the mechanism suggests it dates back to 150-100 BC and had 37 gear wheels enabling it to follow the movements of the moon and the sun through the zodiac, predict eclipses and even recreate the irregular orbit of the moon. The motion, known as the first lunar anomaly, was developed by the astronomer Hipparcus of Rhodes in the 2nd century BC, and he may have been consulted in the machine's construction, the scientists speculate.

Remarkably, scans showed the device uses a differential gear, which was previously believed to have been invented in the 16th century. The level of miniaturisation and complexity of its parts is comparable to that of 18th century clocks.

WOW! But why is this the only such device known?
One of the remaining mysteries is why the Greek technology invented for the machine seemed to disappear. No other civilisation is believed to have created anything as complex for another 1,000 years. One explanation could be that bronze was often recycled in the period the device was made, so many artefacts from that time have long ago been melted down and erased from the archaelogical record. The fateful sinking of the ship carrying the Antikythera Mechanism may have inadvertently preserved it. "This device is extraordinary, the only thing of its kind," said Professor Edmunds. "The astronomy is exactly right ... in terms of historic and scarcity value, I have to regard this mechanism as being more valuable than the Mona Lisa." The research, which appears in the journal Nature today, was carried out with scientists at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens where the mechanism is held and the universities of Athens and Thessaloniki.
One item that I would like to point out: If the powerful civilization that created such objects could collapse and loose so much of its most advanced technical skills, there's no reason to suppose that ours won't too.


bill said...

powerful civilizations disappearing? Look to the dinosaurs.

Icepick said...

I thank you for your comment.

And I'm always looking to the dinosaurs.