Ancient Eclipse-Predicting Computer Rebuilt in Lego

by Nancy Atkinson on December 13, 2010

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I grew up playing with Legos, but never constructed anything like this! Andrew Carol built a replica of the The Antikythera Mechanism, the oldest known scientific computer, which was built in Greece probably around 100 BCE. No one in the current age knew about it until it was recovered from a shipwreck in 1901. Even then, it took a century until anyone could figure out what it was: an astronomical clock that determines the positions of celestial bodies with extraordinary precision. It is an analog computer with over 100 gears and 7 differential gearboxes, and is accurate to a day or two over its range.

Now rebuilt in Lego, the video provides insight into how it works. According to Carol’s website, five turns of the central yellow handle advances the machine one year. The dials on the left represent the Saros cycle of lunar months. The dials on the right represent the positions of the sun and moon against the zodiac.

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Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Torbjorn Larsson OM December 13, 2010 at 3:04 PM

“- Le’go of my bits! I want to do Adam Selene in plastic, how awesome isn’t that! No, get my screws back!”

@ Aqua:

Don’t expect “far older civilizations” (zebras), especially as archaeologists AFAIU are fairly certain they have the agrarian revolution down pat.

But it is recognized that the sea level rise hides important coastal migration routes and their living (for example, along the American coast during its settling). And the exploration has begun in earnest, especially since the same area (the Gulf basin) may hide both the African exodus routes, the first H. sapiens neanderthaliensis – H. sapiens sapiens contact area, and the first modern civilization:

“Carter said in order to make for a solid case, “we would need to find a submerged site, and excavate it underwater. This would likely only happen as the culmination of years of survey in carefully selected areas.””

Torbjorn Larsson OM December 13, 2010 at 3:06 PM

Well, maybe more the _plans_ for the exploration are considered.

Aqua December 13, 2010 at 7:31 PM

I visualize a fleet of submersibles\ each equipped with side scanning sonar arrays and support vessels surveying the world’s ancient shoreliines.These submarines would scan from the surface to 300 foot depth along all continental shelves or other submerged former shoreline. Profiles of ancient shorelines and known beach front elevations, especially where rivers or large streams joined the sea should be focused upon and further explored with possible excavations. I can think of several locations right off hand….

Malta
Two locations off the Indian sub continent
Several locations in Southern Japan and in the Yellow Sea.
Much of the Persian Gulf
The Dead Sea
The Mediterranean Sea
The Baltic
Shallows between Ireland, England and the continent.
Shallows between North America and Asia

Imagine 300 feet of sea water locked up in ice. Where would sea going remnants live? Then.. as the ice melted. What cold they take with them? Surely not any stone monuments or carnes….

Torbjorn Larsson OM December 13, 2010 at 11:49 PM

In reality people will pick some likely spots and start scuba diving on the less deep spots, possibly using current autosubs on the rest.

As for what they brought out from a slowly sinking land area, no hasty flood, you have to read the paper. I haven’t yet, but the press blurb indicates they got their whole culture moved, as one would expect.

vagueofgodalming December 13, 2010 at 4:32 PM

So… if you wind it forward to December 2012, does it self-destruct?

Aqua December 13, 2010 at 1:11 PM

The Antikythera Mechanism is a stunning example of how we have consistently underestimated the longevity and sophistication of early cultures and civilizations. During the last Ice Age sea levels were approx. 300′ lower then currently. THAT is where we should be looking for artifacts or evidence of other far older civilizations!

Aqua December 13, 2010 at 7:48 PM

The continental shelf in eastern south America including the Falkland Islands is VERY interesting… Giant flightless birds anyone?

Torbjorn Larsson OM December 13, 2010 at 11:44 PM

No, they would have flown there. But the Falklands hosted an endemic wolf species, that is presumed to get there before the ocean rise and then became cut off.

Now it has gone dodo as well. (As in “Dead, Oh Dear, Only-shot-the-last-one-why-can’t-they-come-back?”)

Astrofiend December 13, 2010 at 8:09 PM

Nice work. The man has more patience than me…

Aqua December 13, 2010 at 8:34 PM

Short story subject: So there you are… a respected meteorological astronomer ad scientist/senior fellow at the most prestigious institute in Atlantis. Calculations of recent solar observations indicate that the Sun has begun to shed a layer of high energy oxygen, possibly as part of the core’s evolutionary nature.. and its begun to snow at sea level at 27 deg. North latitude.

Lawrence B. Crowell December 14, 2010 at 6:00 AM

This device could have only been produced by a culture capable of sophisticated iron works and who had a mathematical tradition. This could not have been produced by the ancient Egyptians. The device is remarkable, and the Lego version mirrors the patience of the Hellenic craftsmen and applied mathematicians.

LC

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