The Antikythera Mechanism

It’s the age of the smartphone, where you can carry around a little computer in your pocket and look at Facebook or YouTube or whatever whenever you feel like it. I never knew I wanted to watch porn, loudly, in a public restroom before. God damn, technology is great. I mean, what’d we do before these mini brothels came into our lives? Oh yeah, we sat at a computer. Wait, we still do that.

Because I’m gonna type these posts on this.

Okay, so smartphones and tablets and things like that haven’t supplanted the desktop just yet, but the point still stands. Devices are getting smaller and smaller. Laptops were massive and not very lap-friendly at all just a few short years ago. The earliest computers took up enormous amounts of space.

“Little do the engineers know, we’ve secretly replaced one of these with a beehive.”

And now we can hold something in our hand that’s many, many times faster and more powerful. We can perform complex mathematical calculations, view and record the positions of the stars… Oh, but did I mention that the Greeks could do that over 2,000 years ago? Yeah, they couldn’t get turn-by-turn directions to get Odysseus’ ass home or play 3D games or any of that.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare in 490 BC.

But they could do those other things, the calculator and the star map. It doesn’t sound very impressive, but consider that everyone else in the world, for many years yet, was still using ink, paper, and maybe an abacus. For 1400 years, that is. That’s a pretty huge technological leap, and we didn’t even know they had it until 1901. It’s kind of like finding out that your ancestors had a Lincoln and cruised around in it a couple hundred years ago. Why wouldn’t they tell you about that?

Well, maybe they wrote a big instructional book about it and some other ancestors threw it out. (Or maybe they thought you’d steal it, dick.) What we do know is that the mechanism is so well-crafted that it must have had predecessors.

It was made up of several bronze gears, and was able to calculate the heavens and simple mathematical problems using clockwork methods not seen for over a thousand years afterward. It even had markings to let you know when the Olympic games would be, making it a sort of calendar as well. In fact, this thing has so many features, it’s kinda hard to pin down just what it was primarily meant to do. (The smartphone analogy just gets more and more apt.)

Pictured: Expert craftsmanship after two thousand years at the bottom of the ocean.

We also don’t even know for sure if the Greeks made it. (I just wanted to throw in a couple of Greek jokes before I got to that part.) The instructions are in Greek, and the writing on it is too, but there’s some conflicting research that shows that it may have come from Sicily or Turkey.

Regardless, though, there is plenty of evidence showing its pedigree in scientific history. There were many similar devices, just not as tiny and nicely built. However, that’s not stopped people from theorizing that the people who came up with the concept that led to this ancient PDA were taught by aliens. Or maybe a time traveler. Or maybe reckless, time-travelling aliens.

This time those aliens have gone too far.

And when you’re talking about an eon and a half gap in technology, maybe ideas like that don’t sound so wild. But you also have to remember that this thing could very well have been some sort of state or military secret, and so it wasn’t widely written about, not to mention that it was made of bronze, which has always had some kind of value and is easy to reuse. So, it’s really likely that any others of its kind that didn’t end up on the bottom of the sea got repurposed into other shit.

Far more useful.

So maybe aliens or Bill and/or Ted weren’t involved, and bogus as that may be, it’s still an archeological wonder that has completely re-shaped our view of just how much ancient civilizations really knew. Now, I don’t want to get into “ancient technology that surpasses our own” speculations, but it does make you wonder what other huge innovations simply got lost to time and set us back hundreds or thousands of years.

Yeah, hop on my motorcycle, we’ll be there in no time.

The Telegraph
The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project
Wikipedia (Home of the Edit War)