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article imageReview: The Two-Thousand-Year-Old Computer Special

By Alexander Baron     Aug 5, 2012 in Technology
Athen - At the turn of the 20th Century, an artefact was discovered in a shipwreck off the coast of Greece. The Antikythera Mechanism would lead to the rewriting of the history of ancient technology.
Currently on iplayer for those who can receive it, this one hour BBC4 documentary The Two-Thousand-Year-Old Computer is a repeat, but so what? This is a high quality programme about an artefact from a high quality civilisation that is sadly long gone.
We tend to think that nowadays we are so darn sophisticated in comparison with our forgotten ancestors, although we forget also that the Ancient Greeks especially were a highly sophisticated people who discoursed on the meaning of life, ethics, beauty and the complexity of numbers. Isn't π a Greek letter?
On closer examination, the technology of the Ancient Greeks, while far inferior to ours, was also in some respects quite advanced. They did all sorts of clever things with levers, they had plumbing, then there was Hero's Whirling Aeolipile - the first steam engine.
The Antikythera Mechanism, while still a long way short of Apple, Dell or IBM, is a startling revelation, and was used inter alia to predict eclipses. It has put in an appearance on this site once before; in this programme, the story is related of how a team from the UK, Greece, and at least one academic from as far afield as Toronto set about first examining and then deciphering it, and, as far as possible, tracing its inventor. Would it surprise anyone to learn this was Archimedes? Eureka!
The Antikythera Mechanism
An ancient astronomical computer built by the Greeks around 80 B.C.
Photo: Antikythera Mechanism Research Project
More about Antikythera mechanism, National Archaeological Museum, eclipses, Archimedes
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