Antikythera Mechanism

Discussion in 'Earth Mysteries - The Land' started by rynner2, Sep 23, 2002.

  1. JamesWhitehead

    JamesWhitehead Piffle Prospector

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    There are odd survivals which baffle historians in other fields. In music, we have Sumer is icumen in, unique in its era.

    When we consider the stuff that is lost and the few surviving bits which remain, the notion of entire technologies being lost is not a far-fetched notion. :confused:
     
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  2. EnolaGaia

    EnolaGaia I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ...

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    The Antikythera mechanism, so far as we know to date, represents an unexpected degree of precision achieved with a known technology rather than a brand new technology per se.

    Some popular accounts touting the mechanism insinuate gears weren't known (to be known and used ... ) at the time of the mechanism's construction (variously estimated to be somewhere between the late 3rd century BCE and the early 1st century BCE). Such a claim isn't warranted at all. Aristotle wrote about the behavior of gearworks at least a century before the earliest estimated construction date, and the gear-driven Chinese south-pointing chariots similarly pre-date the mechanism.

    The key issue isn't so much the mechanics of the device as the precision of its construction and presumed operations. Achieving precision in machinery entails additional investments of time, etc. Such additional costs result in precision being a premium feature reserved for special apparatus of great perceived importance. The Antikythera mechanism was a custom-built masterpiece for its time, and the lack of similarly precise machines in common use is therefore no big surprise.

    Some additional factors to bear in mind ...

    - Historically, timekeeping has provided the initial impetus for precision machine making. The Greeks and Romans achieved sufficient timekeeping capabilities with water clocks.

    - The metallurgy of that era limited the feasibility and durability of smaller, finer gears.

    - This was still a period in which physical work held a bigger everyday priority than 'data presentation' (e.g., time, astronomical predictions), so engineering was more focused on larger gear mechanisms.

    - To the extent the Antikythera mechanism is considered an example of a mechanical planetarium / astrarium or orrery, it wasn't unique.
     
  3. skinny

    skinny ~~Sweet Tooth~~

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    Eloquently put. I question the carbon dating. This level of technical precision was possible possibly 3000 years ago as far as the availability of metalurgical process is concerned, but I posit that it is far more likely that this item is a more recent creation from amongst other similar devices of more recent production. I strongly doubt this thing was a once-off creation of some isolated genius ahead of his/her time 2000 years ago. Radio-carbon dating is a valid method, but it isn't infallible. The concretion evident inside the gears of the device could skew the dating.

    Can coral concretion be carbon dated? I think it can.
     
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  4. INT21

    INT21 Great Old One

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    EnolaGaia,

    ..The Antikythera mechanism was a custom-built masterpiece for its time, and the lack of similarly precise machines in common use is therefore no big surprise...

    I have to disagree with this.

    How can you have a 'masterpeice' when there is nothing of the same kind, doing similar things, to compare it with ?

    A masterpiece is generally meant to describe the final examination piece produced by an apprentice or journeyman artisan. Something to show what he can do.

    There should be lots of cruder mechanical examples from the same period; but there isn't. Also the technology involved is so important in it's own right that it would not have disappeared. They still used large crude wooden gears and screws at the time.

    As for the availability of metals. The Greeks and the Romans had lots of metallic objects, from swords to armour as well as many everyday tools. So no shortage. And the device used very little material.

    INT21
     
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  5. Mythopoeika

    Mythopoeika I am a meat popsicle

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    Yes, yes, there was lots of metal about. Copper, iron, bronze, silver, gold etc.
    However, it was proportionately more valuable then than it is now, because these days it's easier to mine, refine and manufacture. Therefore, theft of metal items would have been a common crime.
     
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  6. EnolaGaia

    EnolaGaia I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ...

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    One key issue is that the majority of the mechanism's larger fragments were brought up from the seabed over a century ago. As far as I know, there was no attempt to map the wreck site at that time, and there was no attention given to describing what (artifact(s)) were found where within the site. In the absence of the sort of stratigraphic mapping / analysis common nowadays, all that can be said is that the fragments came from the site.

    Another key issue is specifying which Antikythera wreck artifacts have been subjected to C14 analysis. Even though the collection of mechanism fragments includes pieces of its wooden case, I've never been able to find a clear claim that any of these case fragments has been radiocarbon dated.

    Depending on (a) which ancient authors' histories one chooses to believe and (b) how one cross-correlates items mentioned among the histories chosen a case can be made for at least a few such devices' existence.

    Archimedes is reputed to have built an extraordinary astronomical calculator / simulator, but the few specific descriptions of his device consistently indicate it was a spherical planetarium (of which 2 specimens were allegedly taken from Syracuse by Marcellus).

    There are other, far less specific, allusions to the Romans having possessed a pair of similarly sophisticated such devices as of the mid to late 1st century BCE. However, these latter allusions do not correlate with the Syracuse / Archimedes storyline, do not provide enough details about the devices to judge whether they're the same as the purported Archimedes devices or the Antikythera device, and do not clearly correlate with the estimated timeframe for the Antikythera ship's sinking.

    Yes - coral skeletons / concretions can be subjected to radiocarbon analysis. However, the risks for results being skewed by (e.g.) contamination are increased. Additionally, traditional C14 analysis alone is usually insufficient to determine the age of marine organic materials, because traditional methods based on atmospheric C14 ratios don't account for C14 ratios / levels in the seawater. This problem is typically addressed by conducting an additional form of radioisotopic decay test (e.g., uranium / thorium) as the primary indicator of the organic material's age.
     
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  7. Ascalon

    Ascalon Yeti

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  8. INT21

    INT21 Great Old One

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    Ascalon,

    That article is clearly written by a prat.

    ...The Antikythera mechanism tends to put Babbage in his place, preceding him by a couple of millennia. And unlike Babbage, the ancient Greeks actually went ahead and built the bloody thing...

    Babbage's engine was a calculating machine. A completely different concept to the Anti Kythera device.

    And Babbage did build his machine. Just didn't complete it.

    His big mistake was falling out with Ada.

    INT21
     
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  9. Mythopoeika

    Mythopoeika I am a meat popsicle

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    The Antikythera mechanism has the world's oldest user guide inscribed on it! :D
    Awesome.
     
  10. rynner2

    rynner2 Justified and Ancient

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    Written by an ancient Greek technical author! :evil:
     
  11. Mythopoeika

    Mythopoeika I am a meat popsicle

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    It's all Greek to me!
     
  12. Coal

    Coal Gone full 'folk festival'

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    Not half, and really just because she was female.
     
  13. Ermintruder

    Ermintruder Existential pixelfixer

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    A fascinating further video by Chris, of Clickspring fame, who continues in his project to make, from scratch, the hand-tools used to build the Antikythera Mechanism.

    Excellent explanations as to how ancient technologists created case-hardened metalworking files. He has amazing patience, and a good method of explaining the required techniques.

    His commentries upon the cog tooth clearance angles and variations in build methods are almost forensic in their detail and insight. Just astounding.
     
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  14. Mythopoeika

    Mythopoeika I am a meat popsicle

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    You beat me to it! I was going to post that.
     
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  15. Ascalon

    Ascalon Yeti

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    I think the piece is entirely tongue in cheek.
    I just like the idea, and in fairness, well supported theory, that many of humankind's media and communications breakthroughs have been either prompted, subverted, or at the very least, most fully utilised, by the porn industry.
     
  16. INT21

    INT21 Great Old One

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    Ermintruder, Mythopoeika,

    But it goes nowhere near the most important question.

    Why was there no burst of (small) geared machinery following this for nearly 2000 years ?

    If you look at the meteoric advance in all things electrical and all things in general since the beginning of the industrial revolution, particularly in the last 150 years, then this makes the Anti-Kythera episode seem singularly odd.

    INT21
     
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  17. Coal

    Coal Gone full 'folk festival'

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    'cos the prototype was at the bottom of the Med.?
     
  18. Mythopoeika

    Mythopoeika I am a meat popsicle

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    Maybe the engineering genius was on board the ship when it went down?
    Or...more likely, the sheer cost and skill level required put off the people who would most likely be the commissioners of such projects.
     
  19. INT21

    INT21 Great Old One

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    Coal,

    The prototype of one particular machine may have been, but not the technology that (supposedly) made it.

    INT21

    Looks as if we are getting crossed posts here.
     
  20. Coal

    Coal Gone full 'folk festival'

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    True. But the skill required to make such a machine is not the same as the intellect required to conceive of and design it.
     
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