Magazine article Science News

Ancient Gadget Charts Game Time: Antikythera Mechanism Kept a Calendar of the Olympics

Magazine article Science News

Ancient Gadget Charts Game Time: Antikythera Mechanism Kept a Calendar of the Olympics

Article excerpt

Chalkup another Olympian feat to a gadget discovered more than a century ago in a 2,100-year-old shipwreck.

Scientists over the past decades have determined that the device was used to perform complex astronomical calculations, including predicting solar and lunar eclipses and planetary movement.

Known as the Antikythera mechanism, for the small Greek island near which sponge divers recovered it in 1901, the mechanical device is split into 82 fragments and is an agglomeration of disintegrating bronze gears and teeth, encrusted dials and hard-to-read inscriptions.

Using 3-D X-ray imaging, researchers have now revealed more of the inscriptions and determined that the gadget charted the four-year cycle of the Olympics and the cycles of other ancient Greek games.

These results and other new findings "link the cycle of human institutions with the celestial cycles embedded in the mechanism's gear-work," says Tony Freeth of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project in Cardiff, Wales, and Images First Ltd in London.

The first clue suggesting a link to the games came when researchers deciphered the word Nemea near a small subsidiary dial on the mechanism. This represents the Nemean games, part of the Olympiad cycle. Next, Freeth and his colleagues deciphered Isthmia and Pythia, for the games at Corinth and Delphi, and Olympia, for the Olympics. The team reports the findings in the July 31 Nature.

The newly revealed inscriptions also identify 12 month names on the back of the mechanism, showing a sophisticated 19-year calendar--and providing the first concrete evidence for the use of a calendar described by the Greek astronomer Geminos. …

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