Antikythera Mechanism – The Discovery of World’s First Analog Computer

Discovery and artifact recovery.

In October 1900, a team of sponge divers led by Captain Dimitrios Kondos had decided to wait out a severe storm hampering their sail back from Africa on the island of Antikythera, and they began diving for sponges off the island's coastline. In 1900, divers usually wore standard diving dresses — canvas suits and copper helmets — which allowed them to dive deeper and to stay submerged longer.

The first to lay eyes on the shipwreck 60 metres down was Elias Stadiatos, who quickly signaled to be pulled to the surface. He described the scene as a heap of rotting corpses and horses lying on the sea bed. Thinking the diver had gone mad from too much carbon dioxide in his helmet, Kondos himself dove into the water, soon returning with a bronze arm of a statue. Until they could safely leave the island, the divers dislodged as many small artifacts as they could carry.

Together with the Greek Education Ministry and Hellenic Navy, the sponge divers salvaged numerous artifacts from the waters. By the end of 1902, divers had recovered statues of a philosopher's head, a young boy, a discus thrower, the bronze Antikythera Ephebe of ca. 340 BC (now in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens), a Hercules, a marble bull and a bronze lyre. Many other small and common artifacts were also found. On 17 May 1902, however, archaeologist Valerios Stais made the most celebrated find. When diving to search the area of the wreck, he noticed that one of the pieces of rock near him had a gear wheel embedded in it. It would soon be identified as the Antikythera mechanism; originally thought to be one of the first forms of a mechanised clock, it is now considered to be the world’s oldest known analog computer.

The ship, a Roman merchant ship of some 300 tons, had sunk on a well-used trade route from the Eastern to the Western Mediterranean. The wreck and its contents are consistent with a date of 80–50 BC. The famous Jacques Cousteau recovered Pergamese coins from about 86–67 BC, which with Ephesian coins of 70–60 BC reinforces a view that this had been a treasure ship on its way to Rome including booty from Pergamon (circa 84 BC) after the First Mithradatic War. A reasonable date for the wreck is thus 85–60 BC. The ship itself is thought to built, at least in part, from much older timber, 200±43 BC. It has been speculated that the ship foundered because of its age, and perhaps because it was overloaded with treasures including a number of particularly large statues.

Source: The Antikythera Mechanism Project
Antikythera mechanism.

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