Monday, 23 September 2013

Invention of the Day: The 2000-year-old computer

No-one knows who invented it—it might have been Archimedes. But the oldest known computer was not made in the twentieth century, or even the century before that. Its construction has been dated to the early 1st century BC, more than tw0-thousand years ago, and was recovered from sunken wreck off the southern coast of Greece just over a hundred years ago.

A two-thousand-year-old computer!  No bigger than a modern laptop!

Blogger Neil Craig reckons “the Antikythera mechanism is just about the most astonishing historical artefact there is.” It is not a hoax. It is, sadly, not complete.  But Professor Michael Edmunds of Cardiff University, who led a 2006 study of the remains, sums up how astonishing this mechanism is:

"This device is just extraordinary, the only thing of its kind. The design is beautiful, the astronomy is exactly right. The way the mechanics are designed just makes your jaw drop. Whoever has done this has done it extremely carefully ... in terms of historic and scarcity value, I have to regard this mechanism as being more valuable than the Mona Lisa."

A 1-hour BBC documentary talks about the mechanism, designed and built to track the movement of stars and plants, presumably to help with seagoing navigation.


[Hat tip A Place to Stand]


  1. I saw the whole documentary. Quite fascinating. There is certainly mathematics embodied within it but to call it a computer is going a bit far. It is a beautiful mechanism. Fabulously crafted no doubt. It must have been a marvel to behold when intact. But really it is no more than a very elaborate clock. I hope that doesn't disappoint anyone. It was not in any way programmable as such.

  2. The Ancient Greek civilization was the greatest the world has ever known. Not because of what they achieved, but because of what they achieved under the circumstances, and, most of all, because of the veneration they held for their own identity as human beings.

  3. I agree, this is no more a computer than a clock is. Although, maybe we are doing a disservice to clocks!
    Great story and doco and to me that shows just how good science is and that every postmodernist, social constructionist, poststructuralist needs to take a good hard look at themselves and realise that they are not making a contribution to the world of knowledge.


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