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Text on Antikythera Mechanism Deciphered

A research project that deciphered text found on pieces of the mysterious Antikythera mechanism has provided a wealth of new insights on the ancient device.

Dubbed the 'world's first computer,' the complex system of gears was discovered in 1901 and painstakingly reconstructed after decades of work.

The reconstruction revealed that the 2000-year-old machine seemed to serve as an astronomical calculator that tracked major celestial bodies.

Having rebuilt the machine, researchers subsequently turned their attention to the tiny text found engraved on pieces of the machine.

Using advanced imaging techniques, the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project has managed to decipher around 3,400 characters that had previously proven to be inaccessible.

Among the insights are a far better understanding of the machine's 'star calendar' which now can be shown to have tracked at least 42 celestial events.

Descriptions of solar eclipses and equinoxes also allowed researchers to narrow down the possible location of where the Antikythera mechanism had been made and strengthening the case of scholars who suspect it was constructed on the island of Rhodes.

But the most puzzling and potentially enlightening text translated from the device are predictions for colors and sizes for upcoming eclipses and how the events would effect the winds.

Such information was often used by ancient Greeks for predictive purposes after an eclipse, so the prognostication of such details beforehand was considered quite unique by the researchers.

They propose that the findings suggest a Greek cosmology that mixed astronomy, weather, and astrology into one perspective.

The groundbreaking work studying the text also settled some aspect of the Antikythera mechanism mystery, such as concluding that the originally perceived 'instructions' on one side were actually more a description of the device.

Despite these new findings, the Antikythera mechanism remains incredibly enigmatic and even the researchers behind the project concede that they are not certain of its ultimate purpose.

They did, however, speculate that it constituted a veritable summation of celestial knowledge at that time, but whether it was meant for practical or display purposes remains a mystery.

If only there were some kind of ancient tech support that could be called for help.

Coast Insiders looking to learn more about the Antikythera Mechanism can check out Ian Punnett's conversation with science journalist Jo Marchant on the 9/26/2009 edition of C2C.

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Source: Smithsonian Magazine

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