Funky Shit Friday : The Antikythera Mechanism

Funky Shit Friday is where I’m, most every Friday, going to dig out and ramble on about some really neat, but really weird shit. Now when it comes to weird shit, there are some generalities you can come to expect. For example, weird medical stuff usually involves someone surviving some really awful gruesome injury, often self inflicted and often leaving the men in the audience gripping their family jewels in empathetic agony. Weird history stuff tends to be really cool, but only ever as cool as any coincidence could be. I suppose I could coincidentally be staying in the hotel room next door to where they’re filming “Ali Baba and the 40 Horny Co-eds” and just so happen to be walking by when they discover they need a new actor to play the head character? Oh yes, pun intended, and that would be a pretty cool coincidence.

When it comes to weird and nifty occultish or fringe science-y stuff, however, you can pretty much assume that it’s bullshit. That’s why the Antikythera Mechanism is one of my favorite bits of weird shit. Recovered in 1900 from a shipwreck northwest of Crete, it was originally thought to be an early clock developed by Greeks from around 100 BC. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that an English physicist discovered that it was SO much more then that. This hunk of gears and corrosion was the remains of the world’s first computer. It was designed to tell a user the precise location of the Sun, Moon, the 5 known planets at the time, as well as a host of other information based on the input of a few dials. The Mechanism is incredibly complex, having as many as 72 gears and comparable to the kind of things you would find in clocks. Made by the Swiss. In the 19th century.

The Antikythera Mechanism

Think about that. In 100 BC Greek craftsmen had created an astronomical computer that took into account incredibly complicated astronomical data and observation and compiled it into a bunch of gears. This thing took into account complicated principles such as the fact that the moon doesn’t move at the same speed all the time. Heck, this thing could even predict eclipses AND tell you when the next Olympics were. All that and without having the number zero.

And that’s what makes this so neat. There is no question as to the existence of this thing, no mystery. We have it in a museum. There is also little debate as to what it does. After all, the damn thing came with instructions. What is astonishing is that this technology existed more then 2000 years ago. We know it’s legit, too. There are several instances and references to devices like these, and even this device in particular. Apparently Rhodes, the island where most scholars think this thing came from, was famous for this sort of mechanical wizardry, however this is pretty much the only piece we have found that survived. Again, the existence of such an extraordinarily complex piece of equipment in the Classical world is mind boggling, akin to finding, well, to finding and 19th century Swiss timepiece in ancient Greece. Even rudimentary forms of the technology behind this mechanism don’t show up again until almost the 1600s. And if that’s not cool enough for you, then check out the one built out of Legos.


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