Cardiff University experts have led an international team in unravelling the secrets of a 2,000-year-old computer which could transform the way we think about the ancient world.
Professor Mike Edmunds of the School of Physics and Astronomy and mathematician Dr Tony Freeth first heard of the Antikythera Mechanism, a clock-like astronomical calculator dating from the second century BC, several years ago. Now they believe they have cracked the centuries-old mystery of how it actually works.
Remnants of a broken wooden and bronze case containing more than 30 gears was found by divers exploring a shipwreck off the island of Antikythera at the turn of the 20th century. Scientists have been trying to reconstruct it ever since. The new research suggests it is more sophisticated than anyone previously thought.
Detailed work on the gears in the mechanism showed it was able to track astronomical movements with remarkable precision. The calculator was able 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 team believe it may also have predicted the positions of the planets.
The findings suggest that Greek technology was far more advanced than previously thought. No other civilisation is known to have created anything as complicated for another thousand years.
The History Channel had this device on their Ancient Discoveries show last night. We are now beginning to understand how advanced Hellenistic (Greek) technology was and how it affected the civilizations that follwed it, the Romans, Arabs, Holy Roman Empire, Spain, Britain and us.
It just makes you wonder how advanced our science would be now if the Library of Alexandria wasn’t burned to the ground in early First Milleneum Wars.
Speaking of history, here is a dose of future history that in fact explains how more things change, the more they stay the same:
From Probapossible Prolegomena to Ideareal History by James Blish (1978). Blish expounds upon the historical theories of Oswald Spengler.
Civilizations may last for centuries and be extremely eventful; Imperial Rome is a prime example.
But autumn ends, and a civilization becomes a culture gone frozen in its brains and heart, and its finale is anything but grand. We are now far into what the Chinese called the period of contending states, and the collapse of Caesarism.
In such a period, politics becomes an arena of competing generals and plutocrats, under a dummy ruler chosen for low intelligence and complete moral plasticity, who amuses himself and keeps the masses distracted from their troubles with bread, circuses, and brushfire-wars. (This is the time of all times when a culture should unite — and the time when such a thing has become impossible.) Technology flourishes (the late Romans were first-class engineers) but science disintegrates into a welter of competing, grandiosely trivial hypotheses which supersede each other almost weekly and veer more and more markedly toward the occult.
An attempt is made to buttress this by syncretism, the wrenching out of context of religious forms from other cultures, such as the Indian, without the faintest hope of knowing what they mean. This process, too, leads inevitably towards a revival of the occult, and here science and religion overlap, to the benefit of neither. Economic inequity, instability and wretchedness become endemic on a hitherto unprecedented scale; the highest buildings ever erected by the Classical culture were the tenements of the Imperial Roman slums, crammed to bursting point with freed and runaway slaves, bankrupts, and deposed petty kings and other political refugees.
Doesn’t this sound very, very familiar?
The elites of different eras sure know their sheeple, don’t they?