The world’s first computer? Older than you might think

In today’s modern society we do not give the ancients as much credit as they deserve. They pioneered many things that are still in use today and their knowledge of the known world was astounding. From the massive structures built by our ancestors which required a complex understanding of mathematics to using nature to power our machines and developing maps (and tools to tell them how far they had traveled) to get us where we need to know there are a lot of innovations that have their origins with our ancient ancestors. (If interested check out this link and this link) Did you know that the Ancient Greeks are believed to have invented the world’s first computer? It was discovered by sponge divers near the island of Antikythera in 1900 and was used to predict astronomical positions for use with a calendar. This allowed the Ancient Greeks to plot lunar cycles, the harvest, and plan their Olympic Games.

Discovered as part of a shipwreck amongst bronze and marble statues, pottery, glassware, and coins, it is believed the device was being taken to Rome to be part of a triumphal parade in honor of Julius Caesar. After spending two millennia on the ocean floor it was not known what exactly it was when the sponge divers brought it to the surface. It wasn’t until it was x-rayed in the 1970s that the gears were discovered. Researchers found after careful examination in the 2000s that the device consisted of more than 30 interlocking gears, some of which were discovered during cleaning. Testing out the device scientists found that most of the astronomical observations align with the area of Corinth, which was the home of the famous scientist/inventor Archimedes, though another theory as to its origin lead it to the Library at Alexandria due to the coins found near the wreck.

The device shows the 12 signs of the Zodiac on an elliptical ring. An outside ring marked the days of a month off using the Egyptian Sothic calendar of 12 months of 30 days and 5 separate days. A hand crank was used to turn the gears to whatever day it was that you desired and you could then know of the positions of the Sun and Moon, the Moon’s phase, any eclipses, and it is even possible the positions of the known planets. Modern tests have revealed that the device is not accurate when predicting the location of planets but that is more due to the inadequacy of the Greek astronomical theories and not the mechanism’s innerworkings.

So, look at what you are reading this on. Do you think that Archimedes would recognize it? Probably not, but you could have him to thank for its existence.

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