New research published in March 2021 shows clearly that the Antikythira mechanism – discovered in a shipwreck off Antikythira in the early 20th Century – was an accurate astronomical calculator, able to predict the motions of many planets and stars, even when they would appear to move backwards across the sky.
In the second half of the 20th century researchers realised the mechanism dated to ancient Greece – probably around 100BC-200BC – and that it accurately traced the movement of the sun and moon, predicting when eclipses would occur.
The new research shows that it also tracked the complex movements of Venus and Saturn, including the retrograde periods when the planets seem to move backwards across the sky, viewed from Earth. Using X-ray evidence of the mechanism, the researchers have found that it also mapped the orbits of all the other planets known to the ancient Greeks.
This is the oldest machine that has been found of such complexity, the technology of which was then lost until the late medieval era.
The next step for the researchers is to build a replica of the Antikythera Mechanism, still a difficult challenge, even with today’s modern technology.
From the conclusion of the research: “It is the first known device that mechanized the predictions of scientific theories and it could have automated many of the calculations needed for its own design – the first steps to the mechanization of mathematics and science. Our work reveals the Antikythera Mechanism as a beautiful conception, translated by superb engineering into a device of genius. It challenges all our preconceptions about the technological capabilities of the ancient Greeks”
If you are drawn to visit the site of the discovery of this fascinating artifact, the wild and wonderful islet of Antikythera is accessible from Kissamos. The ferry that connects Kissamos with Gythio on the Peloponese stops at Antikythera (about 2 hours from Kissamos) and Kythera (about 4 hours from Kissamos), a few times per week. Once a week (usually Wednesday) it leaves Kissamos and returns in the same day, making it possible to visit Antikythera as a (long) day trip.