Graveyard Shift 12 Bizarre and Outlandish Theories About the Antikythera Mechanism  

Jen Lennon
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The Antikythera mechanism is an ancient analog computer used to predict the movement of the planets and the dates of future solar eclipses. It contains 30 metal gears, which work in harmony. Devices of similar complexity didn't appear until the 14th century, more than 1300 years after the mechanism was built, a reality so difficult to explain rationally that the Internet is practically bursting with the Antikythera mechanism conspiracy theories. But is the Antikythera mechanism real? Undoubtedly. 

In 1901, divers found a shipwreck off the coast of the Greek Island Antikythera. It was full of ancient Greek artifacts, which were excavated and taken to the National Museum in Athens. There, archeologists pieced together sculptures and pottery, largely ignoring a calcified lump of wood and bronze. This, it turned out, would be one of the greatest tragedies of archeological discovery in modern times, because what was inside radically challenged ideas about ancient civilizations and their technology.

The calcified lump contained parts of the Antikythera mechanism, and research into its origins didn't begin until the 1950s. Even as Yale University professor Derek J. de Solla Price began investigating it in 1951, his research had little impact on the scientific community. Over the years, however, thanks to 3D X-rays, carbon dating, and translation of inscriptions, tremendous amounts of information about the mechanism has been compiled. But even as we continue to learn about the device, more questions are raised than answered. The Antikythera mechanism theories range from out-of-this-world to firmly rooted in scientific evidence, but all of them will change everything you know about technology and history.

1

It's Even Older Than Previously Thought


It's Even Older Than Previousl... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 12 Bizarre and Outlandish Theories About the Antikythera Mechanism
Photo: electropod/flickr/CC-BY-NC 2.0

Originally, scientists believed the Antikythera Mechanism dated to between 150 and 100 BCE, but new research places its creation at around 205 BCE. What's so strange is that, since similar artifacts didn't begin appearing until the 14th century, it appears this technology just... disappeared. But why would ancient Greeks allow such a great advancement to be lost to time?

2

It Was Invented by Hipparchus


It Was Invented by Hipparchus is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 12 Bizarre and Outlandish Theories About the Antikythera Mechanism
Photo: tonynetone/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

Hipparchus was a Greek astronomer whose legacy was continued by Posidonius at an astronomy school, where he taught young scholars. One of Posidonius's pupils, Cicero, once wrote Posidonius created a device “which at each revolution reproduces the same motions of the Sun, the Moon and the five planets that take place in the heavens every day and night.” Which sounds a whole lot like the Antikythera Mechanism. But Posidonius wasn't alive in the second century BCE, when the Mechanism was made. However, Hipparchus was. Perhaps Posidonius created an instrument based on the Antikythera Mechanism, which Hipparchus made years earlier. But then, where is Posidonius's instrument?

3

The Mechanism Is Proof of Time Travel


The Mechanism Is Proof of Time... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 12 Bizarre and Outlandish Theories About the Antikythera Mechanism
Photo: Henri Théophile Hildibrand/Public Domain

If the Mechanism dates to the second century BCE, and comparable technology didn't begin appearing until centuries later, then its existence might be proof of time travel - maybe whoever invented it was a time traveler from the future, or perhaps it's actually a futuristic device that was brought back to ancient Greece and left there on purpose.

4

It's a Hoax


It's a Hoax is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 12 Bizarre and Outlandish Theories About the Antikythera Mechanism
Photo: Joseph Nicolas Robert-Fleury/Public Domain

Despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, some believe the whole thing is a hoax. After all, it is difficult to reconcile the age of the Antikythera mechanismwith its technological advancement. Some have compared the mechanism to The Turk, a fake chess-playing robot built in the 18th century. However, scientists readily admit The Turk is fake. Why would they lie about the authenticity of the mechanism? What would they be trying to hide?