Unveiling The Secrets Of The Ancient Olympic Computer

Dennis Faas's picture

Researchers have discovered that the ancient Greeks used a primitive 'computer' to set the dates of the Olympic Games.

Historians already knew that the first games, held in 776BC, were scheduled to begin on the full moon closest to the summer solstice. But until know they hadn't worked out how the Greeks managed to perform the complex and detailed calculations needed to work out that date.

The answer lies in a mechanical brass calculator known as the Antikythera Mechanism, found in a shipwreck in 1901. It had a series of bronze wheels and dials, and dates from around 100 BC. Experts said it appeared to be the most sophisticated device known to exist before medieval cathedral clocks. However, its precise role hadn't previously been known.

Researchers using three-dimensions X-rays have now discovered minute inscriptions which mention Nemea, a site for another regular event held during the Olympiad cycle (which ran every four years, culminating and starting with the more famous sporting festival). Olympia itself is also mentioned, and researchers believe similar devices were used throughout the history of the games. (Source: reuters.com)

The evidence also suggests the device originally came from the Western side of the Greek islands, contradicting previous assumptions. This geographic information backs up theories that it may have been connected to Archimedes, who wrote extensively on the mathematical connections of planets and stars' cycles.

The new research was made possible by Hewlett-Packard's imaging technology. Using a technique known as reflectance imaging, HP experts took photos of the 70-plus fragments that remain of the device. For the front and rear of each fragment they took 50 photos, each from an identical point but with different light sources. They were then able to pick out the pictures which gave the best views of the badly-decayed bronze and piece together the most revealing photograph of the entire device. (Source: hp.com)

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