The Antikythera Mechanism, And Early Technology

The Antikythera Mechanism, And Early Technology

So, one of our faithful followers called me to task not long ago.

RednGreen had this comment on an article about an OOPArt or Out Of Place Artifact called the Nampa Figurine because I opened the article with a bit about the Antikythera Mechanism, but did not elaborate.

So… what about the Antikythera mechanism? If YOU find it fascinating, I want to hear more. You always manage to post something with lots of potential mystery and then drain every drop of fun right out of it.

Well, I do find it fascinating. That does not make it evidence of alien technology, or human technology far in advance of what we have today, or what we are supposed to have had at the time it was probably made.
And so I will open this article with a bit about…

The Ulfberht Sword.

Ulfberht is a name given to unique Viking swords used in Scandinavia around 800–1000 AD. The unique, high-quality steel they incorporated remained unparalleled until the Industrial Revolution.

The Ulfberht swords (there are more than one) were forged with a process unknown in northern Europe in the 9th century, which makes it a very curious item. Though the process was unknown in Europe, it was not unknown to human ingenuity and had been in use in India. If one craftsman had devised the method in parallel to a culture far away, or had learned it through travel or some other contact with another craftsman who was in the know is unknown. We do not even know for certain the name of the man, or men who made these swords. I mention it because it is an example of one manner in which an item we believe should not exist, at least in a given location, does exist with a perfectly feasible explanation.

Enough baiting Red, and on to the Antikythera.

What IS the Antikythera Mechanism?

An ancient analog computer designed to predict astronomical positions and eclipses. It was recovered in 1900–01 from the Antikythera wreck, a shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera. The computer’s construction has been attributed to the Greeks and dated to the early 1st century BC. Technological artifacts approaching its complexity and workmanship did not appear again until the 14th century, when mechanical astronomical clocks began to be built in Western Europe.

The manufacture of this computer clearly demonstrates an unparalleled level of skill for its day. For a detailed description you can go to But I will say current evidence suggests the mechanism dates to as early as 150 Bc. This is why some people who have learned of it only superficially will make claims that it represents some sort of alien intervention in our development, or time travel, or other such nonsense. Let us begin with Aristarchus of Samos who had accurately determined roughly 150 years before the earliest dating of the Antikythera had determined that the Earth orbited the Sun, rather than the other way around, as had been previously thought. As well, he accurately positioned the other known planets in their order of distance from the sun.

During Aristarchus’ lifetime, another discovery was made, by Eratosthenes of Cyrene. It was Eratosthenes who first, accurately within reason considering his methods, calculated the circumference of the Earth. proving long before Columbus (erroneously and foolishly given the credit in grade school text books), that the Earth was in fact round. The point being that the mathematics of the motion of celestial bodies was being studied and improved upon long before the manufacture of the Antikythera, so that aspect of its design was well within the capabilities of the thinkers of even its earliest possible date.

I will admit to a little bit of supposition in the following, but it is not outrageous supposition, and certainly not outside the realm of possibility. I could do this today with no more tools than existed at the time. One aspect of the nature of the Antikythera that causes people to presume upon aliens and time travelers for its manufacture is the precision of its mechanism. First of all lets have a look at the mechanism.

There is a certain amount of presumption on their part as well. Add to that a word from researchers who have actually physically studied it:

The researchers note that the inevitable “looseness” in the mechanism due to the hand-built gears with their triangular teeth and the frictions between gears and in bearing surfaces would have probably swamped the finer solar and lunar correction mechanisms built into it:

Though the engineering was remarkable for its era, recent research indicates that its design conception exceeded the engineering precision of its manufacture by a wide margin—with considerable accumulative inaccuracies in the gear trains, which would have cancelled out many of the subtle anomaly corrections built into its design.

Now to my own supposition. It takes a level of technology not in existence at the time of the Antikythera to produce gears accurately.  This is what seems to be at the heart of the reason for crediting aliens and time travelers.  The mathematics was in place to design them, but production is another matter. I should however restate the first statement. It takes a high level of technology to mass produce gears accurately. Making a one-off device, or even a few of them is another matter. Given the circumference of a particular gear, and size and spacing of the teeth it is a pretty simple matter to create a jig consisting of one tooth, and one valley (it would look rather like a letter  Z ) which will allow you to create a gear accurate enough to meet the description of the researchers above. Once you have cut your first groove, you place that groove on the tooth of the jig, and cut the next groove. Repeat. Provided your jig is accurate, your gear will come out with consistent and evenly spaced teeth. It may have taken a few tries to get it right, you might have to make more than one jig to account for wear on the original, but it is all possible and feasible. Just because we have in hand a finished mechanism, does not mean that there could not have been a dozen failed attempts.

No time travel needed, no alien technology.  And RednGreen, as for draining every drop of fun right out of a subject? As I said in that other thread, that is just an occupational hazard with thinking rationally about mysteries. Answers are rarely as fun as mysteries. I do not presume to have the answer here, but if I can propose a feasible one, an answer not outside the technology of the time, then that takes a lot out of the argument for aliens and time travelers, hollow earth civilizations and Atlanteans. That puts the answer right back in our own Human lap and tells us something about how extraordinary our ancestors were with what they had.

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Henry Paterson