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Our current knowledge of the Antikythera Mechanism

Abstract

The Antikythera Mechanism is the oldest known mechanical calculator. It was constructed around the second century bce and lost in a shipwreck very close to the small Greek island of Antikythera. The shipwreck was discovered 2,000 years later, in 1900. The Mechanism was recognized in the spring of 1902 as a geared mechanical device displaying calendars and astronomical information. Application of modern imaging methods to the surviving fragments has led to general agreement on the basic structure of the device and its solar and lunar astronomical functions. The reading of the remains of its extensive inscriptions has shown that it was also intended to display the shifting position of the planets in the zodiac. In this review, we set out our view on what is known about the device, what can reasonably be conjectured and what major uncertainties still remain regarding its origin, context and purpose.

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Fig. 1: A computer visualization of the Antikythera Mechanism.

Hublot.

Fig. 2: Detail of the back plate dials.

adapted from ref. 77, Aristotle Univ. Thessaloniki.

Fig. 3: An exploded schematic of the known gear trains of the Antikythera Mechanism viewed from the rear.

Antikythera Mechanism Research Project.

Fig. 4: A functional diagram of the calendrical, solar and lunar gear trains.
Fig. 5: Exploded view of the reconstruction of the pointer mechanism.

adapted from ref. 48, SAGE.

Fig. 6: X-ray computed tomography slice from the largest remaining fragment (fragment A) of the Mechanism.

Antikythera Mechanism Research Project.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful for discussions over many years with our colleagues in the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project (AMRP) and with M. Wright and J. Evans. A. Jones, whose recent book1 provides an excellent account of the Mechanism and its context, provided detailed comments on and corrections to this Review Article. We also acknowledge the critical role of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens and its staff during the AMRP imaging of the original fragments.

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The authors contributed equally to the writing of this Review Article, following several in-person discussions. M.G.E. is responsible for creating Fig. 3 and J.H.S. is responsible for Figs. 2 and 4.

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Correspondence to J. H. Seiradakis.

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Seiradakis, J.H., Edmunds, M.G. Our current knowledge of the Antikythera Mechanism. Nat Astron 2, 35–42 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-017-0347-2

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