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The “world’s first computer” has just revealed a new secret, 2000 years after its creation

© Marsyas/Wikimedia

There are objects whose legend goes far beyond knowledge. This is particularly the case of the Antikythera machine. This ancient mechanism, discovered in 1901 near Crete, is believed to be the first “analog computer.” It would have allowed the Greeks to know in advance the position of the stars in the sky thanks to a set of complex gears.

Recovered in very poor condition, historians suggest that the piece as a whole must have been composed of around ten bronze cogwheels. These fragments make it the oldest gear mechanism in the world, several centuries ahead of the technologies of the time.

A lunar calendar?

A recent study carried out by scientists at the University of Glasgow attempted to understand the usefulness of this device. Because if scientists agree in broad terms that it is an analog calculator, they do not all agree on the precise use of such a precise mechanism.< /p>

In their article, published in the journal Horogical Journal, the researchers explain having discovered 354 cavities< /strong> around the toothed wheels of the mechanism. They would have been dug by humans in very specific locations. The number of 354 would also not be random. During ancient times the Greeks followed a lunar calendar of 354 days.

To discover these microscopic cavities, scientists used data from the LIGO gravitational wave detector. Concretely, on a circle of 144 mm in diameter, they discovered between 354 and 355 holes at an average spacing of 0.028 mm.

An object still very poorly understood

The level of precision and the perfect symmetry of the mechanism demonstrate that nothing in the Antikythera machine has been left to chance. Historians are now almost certain that this strange device made it possible to track astronomical phenomena with great precision. In March 2022, historians from the American University of Corwell estimate that the “commissioning” of the mechanism would date precisely from December 22 or 23, 178 BC.

On this day, more than 2,150 years ago, an annular solar eclipse would have been visible in Greece. The Sun, Moon and Earth would have been aligned, but the Moon would have been unable to block out all of the Sun's rays, leaving a “ring of fire” overcome the darkness.

A renowned inventor behind this mechanism ?

The Antikythera machine has fascinated ancient historians around the world for years. If it still raises many questions, that of its inventor has caused a lot of ink to flow. There are several competing theories on this point. Some scientists believe that Archimedes (the originator of the eponymous thrust) was the designer of this mechanism.

Other historians rather rely on Hipparchus of Nicaea, one of the greatest mathematicians of his time, founder of trigonometry. Finally, a smaller minority of researchers mention the name of Posidonius of Rhodes. This theory is however contested, Posidonius having been born after the annular solar eclipse of 178.

In some of his writings, the philosopher Cicero mentions the presence in Rome of two similar objects. It is notably a question of a planetarium that was supposedly made by Archimedes and brought back from Syracuse after the scientist's death by a Roman general.

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116