Antikythera Mechanism- Humankind’s First Computer
November 27, 2015
The word ‘computer’ essentially refers to a device that ‘computes’; in other words, it means a machine that can be used to perform complex calculations within a short amount of time. However, computers these days have become so advanced that it can be easy to forget this simple definition.
Hence, it can come as quite a surprise when you hear that first computing system yet to be discovered dates over 4000 years back- long before the birth of Charles Babbage- the father of computing as we know it. In fact, the first computing system pre-dates even Jesus Christ!
Known as the Antikythera Mechanism, the first computer mechanism was discovered off the wreckage of a Roman ship near the Greek island of Antikythera (hence, the name). It is an analogue computing system that could predict the dates of eclipses as well as serve as a calendar to record dates for the ancient Olympics!
The device consists of 40 bronze gears- all made by hand and has a dial at the front showing the Greek zodiac as well as the Egyptian calendar. Behind this are two more dials- one for keeping track of lunar cycles and other for predicting eclipses.
The Antikythera mechanism was capable of tracking the individual planetary positions of planets such as Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn and could also keep records of the Saros cycle- a period of 18 years after which the sun, moon and the earth all return to the same relative positions.
It is undoubtedly a great example of the ingenuity of the ancient civilizations and even this day, scientists are astounded by how advanced the Antikythera Mechanism was for its time.