Today marks the 115-year anniversary of the discovery by researchers working off the Greek island of Antikythera of the oldest computer known to man.
The team first discovered the device — known as the Antikythera mechanism — at the bottom of the Aegean sea. Roughly the size of a shoebox, the corroded piece of metal dates back to roughly 85 B.C. It has numerous dials on the outside and 30 bronze gears on the inside.
The Greeks used a hand crank on the device to reveal complex information. Some of the dials on the device could predict eclipses, while others described the position of the moon or the cycles of the Greek Olympics.
Very little is known about the device. Scientists continue to study the 2,000-year-old computer to see what other secrets it might hold. For example, last summer researchers discovered a user’s guide on the aged metal fragments that help control the device. Most of the Greek text on the machine is unreadable, but new imaging methods have helped scientists see previously hidden words.
“Before, we could make out isolated words, but there was a lot of noise —letters that were being misread or gaps in the text,” Alexander Jones, a professor of the history of science at New York University, told Live Science last year. “Now, we have something that you can actually read as ancient Greek. We can tell what these texts were saying to an ancient observer.”
The recently discovered inscriptions were on both the front and back of the device and would have been key to understanding all the different dials. Researchers now know there was once a display of planets on the front of the box. Though the display is now lost, there is still evidence of pointers with small spheres that represent the sun, moon, and planets known at the time.
“The mechanism was initially dated around 85 B.C., but recent studies suggest it may be even older (circa 150 B.C.),” noted Google in a discussion of the device, according to UPI. “The crank-powered device was way ahead of its time — its components are as intricate as those of some 18th-century clocks. “