by Himitsu Bako

from HumitsuBako Website



Nonsense and pseudo science run rampant in our world. Claims of conspiracy and extra natural phenomenology replace the proper use of rational inquiry to examine the unknown.


Often, the creation of a pseudo science mythology is easier and more profitable than performing the needed research to discover a historical or physical fact.

The Antikythera Mechanism, one mystery of the ancient world. Immediately before Easter 1900, sponge divers exploring off the coast of Antikythera island in the Aegean Sea discovered the wreckage of an ancient Greek ship.


The ship, determined sunk in 65 B.C.±15 years, rested in 42 meters of water at latitude 35° 52’ 30’’ north, longitude 23° 18’ 35’’ east.1


Not the first discovered Greek wreck, not the last. For some months after the discovery, salvage divers worked to recover statues and other artifacts from the wreckage.


None of the recovered items seemed extraordinary till 17 May 1902 when archaeologist Spyridon Stais noticed a gear mechanism in one artifact.2

The artifact remained something of an oddity until 1951 when British physicist Derek Price began an analysis of the mechanism.


In a seminal 1959 paper published in Scientific America, he reported the mechanism was a component of a device to calculate the motion of stars and planets.3 As science historian James Burke often states, then the world changed.


The change was not of the high publicity, earth-shattering type, rather the facts of the mechanism forced historians to reevaluate the technological sophistication of the Greek culture of the first century B.C. (An old joke states that if you earn a Ph.D you lose the ability to say "I don’t understand," and "I was wrong.") In 1971, the Greek Atomic Energy Commission performed gamma radiographic scans of the mechanism which allowed Price to deduce the function of the device.4

The mechanism was a component of an analog astronomical computer that displayed the position of the sun and moon on any particular day of the year. Why is such a device so extraordinary? The device operated via the use differential gearing, a technology thought developed in the 13th century A.D. Why use differential gearing? The device displayed the moon phase based on the synodic month; the period between two new moons - 29 days 12 hours 44 minutes (29.530556 days).


The sidereal month is the period of the moon’s 360 degree orbit of the earth - 27 days 7 hours 43 minutes (27.321578 days). A moon phase is a function of the relative position of the sun, moon, and earth, and since the earth revolves around the sun as the moon revolves around the earth, the relative sun-earth-moon configuration requires the extra 2.21 days to repeat a moon phase.


A simulation of the phase must subtract the sidereal motion of the sun from the motion of the moon. Hence, use a differential.

One might wonder why the device is considered a mystery if its function is understood. Easily answered, the mechanism is the only known artifact of that type. Was the mechanism a one-of-a-kind device? Almost definitely not. What sort of similar mechanisms existed in the ancient world?

Science cause situations like this, one answer causes new questions.

The most persistent mystery, who designed and built the amazing mechanism? Perhaps Posidonius (135 BC to c. 50 BC) a Rhodian historian who also studied the motion of the sun and moon.

"In the history of ancient thought he can be compared to no one but Aristotle."

Greek (Rhodian) historian, scientist, philosopher.


He wrote a 52-book history of the Roman Empire, picking up where Polybius left off. This work heavily influenced later historians and other writers, from which we glean what we know of Posidonius and his views.


He promoted the Roman Empire, seeing it as a reflection of the cosmic order, in which every human is a citizen of the great city of God. Posidonius saw that primitive cultures were equivalent to the earlier stages of advanced cultures and thus saw the commonality of mankind, which he believed would be best fostered by unification under Rome.


Posidonius was also a theoretical and experimental scientist, studying tides and their relationship with the moon, calculating the circumference of the earth, and recording ocean currents. His interest in the sciences was in part due to his belief that similar laws apply in both the worlds of man and of nature.


He believed that in studying the one, you could learn also about the other, and through better appreciation of common laws, better understand the overarching structure of philosophical existence and the cosmos itself. A powerful thinker, Posidonius greatly impressed his contemporaries and left a significant legacy in their thought and writing, the famous biographer Plutarch being among those "dependent on Posidonius for their conception of history."

As noted by Arthur C. Clarke, though the mechanism predicts the motion of the bodies, it does not explain the motion.5 To know the what, does not imply you understand the why.

A list of serving information on the Antikythera Mechanism:

  • Gears from the Greeks. A presentation by E. Christopher Zeeman, K.B., F.R.S, at the University of Texas at San Antonio, February 20, 1998. An excellent presentation on the history and reality of the mechanism. Warning, Zeeman’s penmanship is almost as bad as mine.

  • The Antikythera Mechanism: Physical and Intellectual Salvage from the 1st Century B.C. by Robert S. Rice in the USNA Eleventh Naval History Symposium. A well researched and technical examination of the device.

  • Antikythera mechanism links by Australian Rupert Russell.

  • Bernard Gardener’s 1993 Honors Thesis, 3D Analysis of X-rays of the Antikythera Mechanism.

  • The American Mathematical Society’s "What’s New in Math" includes two columns by Tony Phillips, SUNY at Stony Brook, on the mechanism’s function. The first a general description of the sun-moon assembly, the second an examination of the differential gear.

  • John Gleave, an orrery maker, constructed a functional version of the mechanism. As of March 2001, the cost for a reproduction was approximately $4000.00.

We need neither ancient astronauts or advanced lost civilizations to explain the existence of the mechanism.


Man’s ingenuity provides all the explanation needed.






[1]   Russell, Rupert, Third Year B. Comp Assignment, April 1996. Tutor, Peter Colville.
[2]   Welfare, S., Aruthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World, pg. 65.
[3]   Price, Derek J. de Solla, "An Ancient Greek Computer," Scientific American Vol. 200 No. 6 (June, 1959): 60-67.
[4]   Price, Derek J. de Solla, Gears from the Greeks, 1975.
[5]   Clarke, Authur C., "Technology and the Limits of Knowledge," in The View from Serendip.