Is this Ancient Gear Mechanism the First Computer on Earth?

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The Antikythera mechanism, as it is known, is quite possibly earth’s first computer and the most ancient gear system ever found.  Found in about 150ft of water off Point Glyphadia, near the island of Antikythera, the mechanical device is composed of ancient gears made mostly from bronze and wood.  The remaining bronze pieces were so badly corroded that the entire machine  appeared to be a blob of badly corroded metal.  It was not until later, until the archaeologist Valerios Stais noticed a gear shape that the reality began to hit that this was no common piece of metal.  Since then, the mystery has only deepened.

According to Wikipedia:

Generally referred to as the first known analogue computer, the quality and complexity of the mechanism’s manufacture suggests it has undiscovered predecessors made during the Hellenistic period. Its construction relied upon theories of astronomy and mathematics developed by Greek astronomers, and is estimated to have been created around the late second century BC.

At this point, no predecessors have been found.  To put this in perspective, a device of this complexity would not be seen again for over 1500 years.


What does the Antikythera Mechanism do?

For a long time, scientists and archaeologists had no idea.  However, with modern day technology, much of the original mechanism has been reconstructed, virtually anyway.  We now know that it was a very sophisticated ancient clock which calculated the Egyptian civil calendar, the Greek signs of the zodiac on the front.  On the back, it calculated solar eclipse dates as well as the dates of the next Ancient Olympic Games as well as their respective locations.  Keep in mind, this is the first instance of an ancient gear composed of metal.

Who build this Out of Place Artifact?

There are many theories about who built the device, with most theories trying to link it to one of the more famous Greek scientists or philosophers that we know about.  It is possible that it was built by someone whose name we will never know.  However, one particular theory stands out which links the box to Archimedes or Hipparchus:

The tradition of making such mechanisms could be much older. Cicero wrote of a bronze device made by Archimedes in the third century B.C. And James Evans, a historian of astronomy at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, thinks that the eclipse cycle represented is Babylonian in origin and begins in 205 B.C. Maybe it was Hipparchus, an astronomer in Rhodes around that time, who worked out the math behind the device. He is known for having blended the arithmetic-based predictions of Babylonians with geometric theories favored by the Greeks.  – Via The Smithsonian

This would explain the esoteric nature of the device.  What we do know, thanks to modern technology, is that the gears themselves were hand cut.  There does not appear to be any evidence of advanced manufacturing.  In fact, the irregularities of the teeth indicate that the device may not have been incredibly accurate.

A Deeper Mystery

Despite all of that, the device raises a number of perplexing questions.  This is the first known instance of using metal gears in this way and the gearing is astoundingly complex.  The device contained over 30 gears with very complex gear ratios.  This sophistication indicates that it was not the first device of its kind and may not even be the best device of its kind.  It’s possible that, due to the Egyptian connection, it is an imitation of some other ancient device which is now lost to us, similar to the Dendera Light depicted in ancient Egyptian art.

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