Scientists May Have Found World’s Oldest Computer

Posted: Jun 11 2016, 2:02pm CDT | by , Updated: Jun 12 2016, 9:44pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Scientists may have Found World’s Oldest Computer
Credit: Brett Seymour / WHOI

The world's first computer may have been used to predict the future.

A mysterious device was discovered in 1901 from an ancient ship wreck off the coast of a Greek island.  The device was named Antikythera Mechanism after the island of Antikythera on which it was found and it remained a puzzle for more than 100 years.

Initially, scientists thought it was an astronomical tool. After using cutting-edge technology, they are now able to decipher thousands of characters engraved on the mysterious device and are reached to the conclusion that it was more than an astronomical tool. Researchers say that the mysterious device was a kind of philosopher’s guide to the galaxy and was probably the world’s first computer. The latest findings are the result of a 10-year research work.  

“Now we have texts that you can actually read as ancient Greek, what we had before was like something on the radio with a lot of static,” said Alexander Jones, professor of the history of ancient science at New York University.

"It's a lot of detail for us because it comes from a period from which we know very little about Greek astronomy and essentially nothing about the technology, except what we gather from here. So these very small texts are a very big thing for us.”

Dating to mid-1st century B.C. shipwreck, the ancient computer is considered one of the most fascinating archeological discoveries ever made. Signs of various celestial objects are craved on it such as moon, sun and planets, showing the movements and positions of the bodies. Apparently, it looks like an astronomical tool but ancient Greeks also used it predict the future.

“It was not a research tool, something that an astronomer would use to do computations, or even an astrologer to do prognostications, but something that you would use to teach about the cosmos and our place in the cosmos,” said Jones. “It’s like a textbook of astronomy as it was understood then, which connected the movements of the sky and the planets with the lives of the ancient Greeks and their environment.”

The letters engraved on the fragments of the device were partially visible and it was not possible to interpret them with the technology available in the past. About 12 years ago, a team of international researchers started to use X-ray scanning and advanced imaging technology for assisting them in understanding the ancient text. With the help of latest technology, researchers were able to read about 3,500 characters which are the quarter of the whole text found. The device is estimated to be 2,100 years old.

“The original investigation was intended to see how the mechanism works,” said co researchers Mike Edmunds. “What we hadn’t realized was that the modern techniques that were being used would allow us to read the texts much better both on the outside of the mechanism and on the inside that was done before.”

The computer was probably made in Greece between 200 and 70 B.C.  When it was recovered by the divers a century ago, it was broken into two pieces and was lying in the depths of the Aegean Sea.  

A team of archeologists is returning to the site. They believe there could be more pieces of the device possibly overlooked by the divers at that time.





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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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