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Jul 31, 08 - 7:58 am

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Ancient Olympic ComputerResearchers announced Wednesday that a geared device dating to the second century BC was used to calculate the dates for the first Olympic games.

It has long been known that the Antikythera Mechanism — recovered in 1900 or 1901 from a shipwreck off the Greek coast — was able to calculate and display celestial information, including cycles and phases of the moon and sun.

Now, newly deciphered inscriptions on the device referencing the Olympics, and a dial designed to calculate the four-year Olympiad Cycle, reveal more about the device and how it was used by the Greeks.

The first Olympics were held in Nemea in 776 BC. Reuters reports that “The name ‘Nemea’ was found near a small dial on the mechanism, a reference to the site of one of the prominent games in the Olympiad cycle, the researchers said. Locations such as Olympia also appeared.”

A report published Wednesday in the journal Nature says:

The Antikythera Mechanism is technically more complex than any known device for at least a millennium afterwards. Its specific functions have remained controversial because its gears and the inscriptions upon its faces are only fragmentary

Here we report surface imaging and high-resolution X-ray tomography of the surviving fragments, enabling us to reconstruct the gear function and double the number of deciphered inscriptions. The mechanism predicted lunar and solar eclipses on the basis of Babylonian arithmetic-progression cycles.

Technologists from HP joined the scientific team and contributed imaging analysis. See their amazingly detailed ‘reflectance images’ here.

If you still want more, watch a fascinating video of how researchers deciphered the purpose and properties of the mechanism.

Source: Nature Journal

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