The Antikythera Mechanism – Basic facts

The Antikythera Mechanism is the oldest known mechanical calculator in the history of humanity. It was constructed in the 2nd Century BCE. It was made of bronze and was protected by two bronze covers and a wooden case. It was lost in a shipwreck in the depths of the sea, just beyond the harbor of Antikythera, a small Greek island between Peloponnese and Crete. It was discovered 2,000 years later, in the spring of 1900. During the 20th Century its enigmatic geared mechanism was studied by several researchers, most notably Derek de Solla Price and Michael Wright.

During the last 10 years, an international and multidisciplinary team of scientists (the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project) has built on previous research to decipher the important functions of the Mechanism.

It was a portable (shoe-box-size), geared mechanism which calculated and displayed, with fair precision, the movement of the Sun, Moon and planets on the sky and the phase of the Moon for a given epoch. Unfortunately the gearing driving the planetary predictions is missing. It could also display the four-year cycle of the Olympic Games. It had extensive inscriptions, the surviving portion of which (~3400 letters) was published in 2016, available here.

No geared instruments survive from before the Antikythera Mechanism and for several centuries after. Therefore this device stands out as an extraordinary example of high tech in ancient times, confirming the sophisticated astronomical knowledge of ancient Greeks and their excellent mathematical, geometrical, and particularly mechanical engineering skills.

The Antikythera Mechanism - Public release of the original data

Ten years after the first major publication of the research undertaken by the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project in November 2006 (Freeth et al. 2006, Nature, 444, 587–591), the original data are released for other researchers’ use.

The data of the Antikythera Mechanism include:

1. High resolution photography taken by Costas Xenikakis (copyright by the National Archaeological Museum of Athens). Requests for this data should be made directly to the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

2. Full resolution Polynomial Texture Mapping data taken in collaboration with Tom Malzbender. This data is released under the licence of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project.