Wednesday, July 29, 2009

World's first computer; Like Grandad, older than you thought

antik1.jpg From Swiss Army knives to iPhones, it seems we just love fancy gadgets with as many different functions as possible. And judging from the ancient Greek Antikythera mechanism, the desire to impress with the latest multipurpose must-have item goes back at least 2000 years.

Clockwork Computer
This mysterious box of tricks was a portable clockwork computer, dating from the first or second century BC. Operated by turning a handle on the side, it modelled the movements of the Sun, Moon and planets through the sky, sported a local calendar, star calendar and Moon-phase display, and could even predict eclipses and track the timing of the Olympic games.

The Origin
One new clue to the origin of the mechanism comes from the Olympiad dial, there are six sets of games named on the dial, five of which have been deciphered so far. Four of them, including the Olympics, were major games known across the Greek world but the fifth, Naa, was much smaller, and would only have been of local interest.

The Naa Games
The Naa games were held in Dodona in northwestern Greece, so Alexander Jones of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World in New York has suggested that the mechanism must have been made by or for someone from that area.

Older than the Romans
Intriguingly, this could mean the device is even older than at first thought. The inscriptions have been dated to around 100 BC, but according to Jones the device may have been made at latest in the early second century BC, because after that the Romans devastated or took over the Greek colonies in the region, so it's unlikely that people would still have been using the Greek calendar there.

The highlight for most audiences, was this breathtaking new animation (Click on the Picture) of the gearing inside the mechanism. It has been made by Mogi Vicentini, an Italian astronomer and computer scientist, and it brings the device to life brilliantly.

Judge for yourself. It shows that the mechanism would hold its own against the best of today's luxury gadgets.

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