The Antikythera Mechanism I
With Java animations by Bill Casselman
The main reference for these columns is printed: the monograph, cited below, by the famous Yale historian of science Derek De Solla Price (other printed references). On the web one can find the complete text of his 1959 Scientific American article on the subject. E. C. Zeeman, K.B., F.R.S. delivered lectures on the topic in 1998 at the University of Texas, San Antonio and at Trinity College, Dublin. The 23 transparencies from these lectures are on the web and it's almost like being there (see his paper for more detail). DivingBum Enterprises has a page with a photograph of the curent installation in the National Museum of Archaeology, Athens. Chris Rorres' page Spheres and Planetaria on the Drexel University site has a nice photograph of Price himself. Rob S. Rice of the University of Pennsylvania has posted a very useful paper on the subject, from a 1995 U.S. Naval Academy symposium on Naval History. A lively sketch of De Solla Price's scientific and human personality can be found in the Foreword, by Robert K. Merton and Eugene Garfield, to one of his books.
Update: Technology available to Tony Freeth and his collaborators, including computed X-ray tomography (like a high-resolution CAT-scan), has allowed a much better understanding of the structure of the mechanism and has shown that earlier work by Price, while correctly assessing the intellectual scale of the Greek's achievement, was dead wrong on many of the details. Read about some of the discoveries made in 2009 here.
1. The history of the Mechanism
The Antikythera Mechanism is the name given to an astronomical calculating device, measuring about 32 by 16 by 10 cm, which was discovered in 1900 in a sunken ship just off the coast of Antikythera, an island between Crete and the Greek mainland. Several kinds of evidence point incontrovertibly to around 80 B.C. for the date of the shipwreck. The device, made of bronze gears fitted in a wooden case, was crushed in the wreck, and parts of the faces were lost, ``the rest then being coated with a hard calcareous deposit at the same time as the metal corroded away to a thin core coated with hard metallic salts preserving much of the former shape of the bronze'' during the almost 2000 years it lay submerged. The quotation is from Derek de Solla Price's monograph Gears from the Greeks ... in the 1974 Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (Volume 64, part 7).
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