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See Inside December 2009

Decoding an Ancient Computer: Greek Technology Tracked the Heavens

New explorations have revealed how the Antikythera mechanism modeled lunar motion and predicted eclipses, among other sophisticated tricks



Jean-Francois Podevin and Tony Freeth

If it had not been for two storms 2,000 years apart in the same area of the Mediterranean, the most important technological artifact from the ancient world could have been lost forever.

The first storm, in the middle of the 1st century B.C., sank a Roman merchant vessel laden with Greek treasures. The second storm, in A.D. 1900, drove a party of sponge divers to shelter off the tiny island of Antikythera, between Crete and the mainland of Greece. When the storm subsided, the divers tried their luck for sponges in the local waters and chanced on the wreck. Months later the divers returned, with backing from the Greek government. Over nine months they recovered a hoard of beautiful ancient Greek objects—rare bronzes, stunning glassware, amphorae, pottery and jewelry—in one of the first major underwater archaeological excavations in history.

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