The Antikythera mechanism, an ancient device discovered over a century ago, has long been considered the world’s oldest known computer.

New research has now revealed that this remarkable artifact was used to track the Greek lunar calendar, rather than the solar calendar used by the ancient Egyptians, contrary to previous beliefs.

The Antikythera mechanism, created around 2,200 years ago, is a shoebox-sized device containing intricate bronze gears that were used to model the motions of the sun, moon and planets.

One key component, the “calendar ring”, was used to track the days of the year, with each hole representing a single day.

Recent analysis by researchers at the University of Glasgow has determined that the mechanism likely had 354 or 355 holes, corresponding to the 354-day lunar calendar used in ancient Greece, rather than the 365-day solar calendar.

This finding contradicted the previous belief that the device followed the more accurate Egyptian solar calendar.

“Glasgow team’s results provide fresh evidence that one of the components of the Antikythera mechanism was most likely used to track the Greek lunar year,” the researchers stated.

Study co-author Graham Woan, an astrophysics professor at the University of Glasgow, said, “The precision of the holes’ positioning would have required highly accurate measurement techniques and an incredibly steady hand to punch them.” 

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“It’s a neat symmetry that we’ve adapted techniques we use to study the universe today to understand more about a mechanism that helped people keep track of the heavens nearly two millennia ago.” 

2020 study 

The new research builds on a 2020 study that also concluded the Antikythera mechanism tracked the lunar calendar. Andrew Thoeni, a co-author of that earlier paper, expressed satisfaction that “more scholars are now accepting and validating our findings.”

Diomidis Spinellis, a professor who has studied the Antikythera mechanism, praised the latest work, stating, “The Antikythera mechanism is a gift that keeps on giving… Despite its severe corrosion and many missing elements, the application of increasingly sophisticated technologies and innovative cross-disciplinary analysis continues to provide impressive insights into this remarkable artifact.”

(With inputs from agencies)


Heena Sharma

Heena Sharma is a digital journalist who writes mostly on current geopolitical developments. @HeenaSharma0819

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