The Oldest Computer in the World (That’s Not My Desktop)

The Steampunk Workshop has nothing on the Greeks.

Wired reports that Michael Wright, a former curator of London’s Science Museum, has managed to singlehandedly reconstruct a replica of the Antikythera calculator, a machine dating back to at least 150 BC. (The Greeks were not messing around.)

Pieces of the machine were first discovered in ancient naval wreckage in 1902; scientists frowned and poked at them for 50 years before turning gamma rays on them, which helped cut through the barnacles to hint at the amazing machine that lay beneath.

 

The Antikythera mechanism, so called because no one wants to call it The Antikythera Device and hand out a free title for the next Bond movie, is a dictionary-sized collection of 37 dials that work together to calculate the movement of planetary bodies. It’s cross-platform (Greek AND Egyptian calendars!) and includes allowances for the erratic orbits of the five planets it tracks. It was used primarily as a calendar to gauge the timing of the next Olympic Games. Insert your own “guys and sports” joke here.

Below is a clip of Mr. Wright demonstrating the machine, in the middle of the world’s coolest-ever hobby room; it looks like the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Sebastian’s Blade Runner workshop had a kid.

To read up on the history of the Antikythera mechanism and get a little language practice, check out IL CALCOLATORE DI ANTIKYTHERA, an HTML labor of love reviewing the calculator’s history. Scroll down for English, or enjoy it en Italiano.

To nominate Michael Wright for the next Dr. Who, line up behind me.

[Image from the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project.]

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