Antikythera Mechanism

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The Antikythera Mechanism is a dramatic example of Greek attempts to understand how things worked in the heavens. It is reported that Archimedes (one of the great scientists of the Greek civilization along with Aristotle and Euclid) constructed a mechanical device to trace out the motions of the sun and planets in the third century B. C. In 1901 divers working off the island of Antikythera found the remains of a clocklike mechanism 2,000 years old. 

antmech2.jpg (16234 bytes) It is now thought that the "Antikythera Mechanism" was a device perhaps similar to that of Archimedes (but probably not his, since the ship carrying it was wrecked in the first century B. C., two centuries after Archimedes). To the left you can see one of the main gears (image by G. Rieke).
antmech1.jpg (13515 bytes) To the left are two of the accurately ruled scales, along with some writing on one of the scales and more on the case in front. To the right, a series of nested scales and a fiducial across them to allow reading the scales simultaneously. (Images by G. Rieke) antmech3.jpg (13364 bytes)
Reconstruction of the mechanism  

Although the device was extensively damaged by its 2000 years at the bottom of the Mediterranean, a reconstruction has been put together (see left). It shows a facility with complex machinery as well as a strong interest in the astronomical problem of the motions of the planets.  


The Greeks may have been on the verge of developing complex machinery and an industrial society based on it, although some have suggested that their heavy reliance on slaves made machinery economically impractical and would have forestalled its widespread use (e.g., W. Durant, “The Life of Greece”).


For more on the Antikythera Mechanism, see the Wikipedia article (


For an animation that shows how it worked (caution: 45 MB requires high bandwidth)en00500_1.jpg (18578 bytes) (from Educational Technology Lab, University of Macedonia,