Return to Antikythera

Lost Treasures Of The Ancient World

Site where oldest computer lay for thousands of years may yield other treasures and even another Antikythera mechanism.

In 1900, Greek sponge divers stumbled across bronze and marble statues, part of a cargo of stolen Greek treasure that was lost when the Roman ship carrying them sank two thousand years ago near the tiny island of Antikythera. It was the first marine wreck to be studied by archaeologists, and yielded the greatest haul of ancient treasure that had ever been found. Yet the salvage project – carried out in treacherous conditions with desperately crude equipment – was never completed. So this month, armed with the latest diving technology, scientists are going back. Between 1900 and 1901, the sponge divers retrieved a string of stunning antiquities, including weapons, jewelry, furniture and some exquisite statues. But their most famous find was a battered lump that sat unnoticed for months in the courtyard of Athens' National Archaeological Museum, before it cracked open to reveal a bundle of cogwheels.

It has taken scientists over a hundred years to decode the inner workings of those corroded fragments, with x-ray and CT scans finally revealing a sophisticated clockwork machine used to calculate the workings of the heavens (video). Dubbed the Antikythera mechanism, it had pointers that displayed the positions of the sun, moon and planets in the sky, as well as a star calendar, eclipse prediction dial and a timetable of athletics events including the Olympics. It's a stunning piece of technology that revolutionizes our understanding of the abilities of the ancient Greeks. Nothing close to its complexity is known to have been created for well over a thousand years afterwards, and the emergence of mechanical clocks in medieval Europe. There are questions that remain unanswered, such as where it's from and who built it.

 

But one of the most intriguing mysteries relates to the wreck on which it was found. What's still down there?

 

Kemo D. 7

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