The Antikythera Mechanism: Decoding the World's First Computer

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[Recorded: Nov. 4, 2015] In 1900 a party of Greek sponge divers chanced on an ancient wreck near the tiny island of Antikythera, between Crete and the Greek mainland. The first ever major underwater archaeology subsequently recovered a spectacular array of ancient Greek treasure. The divers also found a corroded lump, not considered at all important at the time. Then the lump split apart revealing some tiny bronze gearwheels—a shocking discovery for ancient Greece. It was the beginning of an extraordinary voyage of discovery over more than a hundred years as its hidden identity has been gradually decoded. Tony Freeth presents the early research on the device as well as the remarkable progress of three Antikythera research pioneers—up to the point in 2005 when new scientific investigations were carried out at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Tom Malzbender then takes up the story by describing a remarkable surface-imaging technique that he invented, which became one of the key tools for investigating the Antikythera Mechanism. He also describes Microfocus X-Ray Computed Tomography (X-Ray CT), which yields high-resolution 3D X-rays. Both techniques were crucial for understanding the Antikythera Mechanism. Tony Freeth returns to reveal the remarkable breakthroughs that came from this new data. The Antikythera Mechanism has emerged as an astronomical calculating machine of spectacular sophistication: one of the wonders of the ancient world and a key landmark in the history of computing.