General questions

General Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Antikythera Mechanism

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What does it do?

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What does it do?

The mechanism has 3 main dials, one on the front, and two on the back.

The front dial is marked with the divisions of the Egyptian calendar, or the Sothic year. Inside this there is a second dial marked with the Greek signs of the Zodiac. This second dial is moveable dial so that it can be adjusted to compensate for leap years.

Who made it?

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Who made it?

Once again there is no hard evidence identifying a particular maker. It is thought by some that it was probably made by someone of the Hipparchos school. Hipparchos (c.190 BC – c.120 BC) was a Greek, astronomer, geographer, and mathematician of the Hellenistic period. Hipparchos was probably born in Nicaea (now Iznik, Turkey), and probably died on the island of Rhodes. He is known to have been a working astronomer at least from 147 BC to 127 BC. Hipparchos is considered the greatest astronomical observer and, by some, the greatest overall astronomer of antiquity.

Where was it made?

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Where was it made?

There is no hard evidence for the place of manufacture for the Mechanism. However there is a growing consensus of opinion that the Mechanism was made on the Island of Rhodes. Both Rhodes and Alexandria were perhaps the two major academic centres at the time in Europe.

How was it made?

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How was it made?

The mechanism was made using simple steel tools. The Ancient Greeks did indeed have steel tools, and their craftsmanship in general and metal working specifically, was superb. Indeed, to prove how easily the mechanism could be manufactured in this way Michael Wright has built a fully working model of the Mechanism using traditional methods. In doing so he observed that the only really difficult part was the manufacture of the front dial, with its recessed ring.

What was it made of?

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What was it made of?

The Mechanism is believed to be made of Bronze, or more specifically a low tin bronze (95% copper, 5% tin). However it is difficult to conceive how an accurate compositional analysis could be made considering the advanced state of corrosion the Mechanism exhibits. The frame-plate, all the gears, shafts, and fixings are made of bronze. The Mechanism was originally housed in a wooden box, which may not have been complete at the time of discovery. Once the mechanism was removed from the sea this soon disintegrated, and today only very few fragments of wood remain.

When was the ship wrecked?

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When was the ship wrecked?

The ship, a Roman merchant ship of some 300 tons, had sunk on a well-used trade route from the Eastern to the Western Mediterranean. The wreck and its contents are consistent with a date of 80–50 BC. The famous Jacques Cousteau recovered Pergamese coins from about 86–67 BC, which with Ephesian coins of 70–60 BC reinforces a view that this had been a treasure ship on its way to Rome including booty from Pergamon (circa 84 BC) after the First Mithradatic War. A reasonable date for the wreck is thus 85–60 BC.

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