Recovered in 1901 from a shipwreck off Crete, the Antikythera Mechanism is a sophisticated device, predating similar technology by over 1,000 years to accurately predict solar and lunar eclipses and the positions of the sun, moon planets. Its exact use is still under debate but researchers from the University of Puget Sound and the National University of Quilmes have found a way to determine when the calendar on the Antikythera Mechanism began.
Published in the Archive for History of Exact Sciences, the research done by James Evans,a physicist from the University of Puget Sound, and Christian C. Carman, a science historian from the National University of Quilmes, suggests that the calendar started in 205 B.C. That's just seven years after the death of Archimedes, one of the Greek scientists believed to have influenced the creation of the Antikythera Mechanism.
Evans, however, is cautious about identifying the device's maker.
"We know so little about ancient Greek astronomy. Only small fragments of work have survived. It's probably safer not to try to hang it on any one particular famous person," he said.
Starting with how eclipse patterns on the device matched eclipse records the Babylonians had, Evans and Carman used a process of elimination to come to the conclusion that the starting point for the calendar on the Antikythera Mechanism was 50 years to a century earlier than what was previously believed.
This finding supports the theory that the eclipse prediction strategy the device followed was not based on Greek trigonometry but instead on Babylonian arithmetic that the Greeks borrowed.
According to a statement released by the University of Puget Sound, Evans and Carman took into account records of solar and lunar anomalies, missing solar eclipses, and cycles for solar and lunar eclipses, as well as other phenomena to arrive at the starting point. Research did encounter difficulty because just around a third of the eclipse predictor on the Antikythera Mechanism was preserved.
When new information emerged about the device in 2006, interest in the Antikythera Mechanism grew, inspiring replicas, books, computer simulations and even a Lego model. Historians, archaeologists, astronomers and Greek scholars continue to add to the growing community of researchers working to further unlock the secrets of the device.
Greek scientists and Woods Hole began an expedition last fall, marking the first systematic investigation of the shipwreck site where the Antikythera Mechanism was found. Bad weather shortened the researchers' dive to the site but plans are in place to return next spring.