Lorentz Center - The Antikythera Mechanism: Science and Innovation in the Ancient World from 17 Jun 2013 through 21 Jun 2013
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    The Antikythera Mechanism: Science and Innovation in the Ancient World
    from 17 Jun 2013 through 21 Jun 2013






Sylvia Berryman

University of British Columbia, Vancouver Canada


“The Reception of Ancient Greek Mechanics in Antiquity”


Although the ‘mechanical hypothesis’ is thought to have arisen in the early modern world, I argue that there is evidence for it in late antiquity.  In order to make the case for this, I believe it is necessary to reject the idea that it makes sense of speak of ‘mechanistic’ natural philosophy in the absence of an explicit analogy drawn to the workings of devices.  The tendency to think that the ‘mechanistic’ can be understood as an ahistorical phenomenon has impeded our understanding of the emergence of mechanical thinking. 




Jan Egberts



 “Aristotle's Natural and Unnatural Motion”


From time immemorial Aristotle is credited with the view that, ceteris paribus, heavier bodies fall faster than lighter ones. Galileo relied on this idea in his criticism of Aristotle’s laws of free fall, and ever since, this has been the prevailing interpretation of Aristotle's concept of natural motion. However, ascription of this view to Aristotle is problematic, since it would seem to be contradicted by simple observations that could have been performed in Aristotle's time. Galileo based his interpretation on passages in Aristotle's physical works in which he says that the natural motion of heavier bodies was larger than that of lighter bodies. Galileo's interpretation would indeed follow if Aristotle had held that the empirically observed free fall was identical to the natural motion and that no other causes were involved. But Aristotle could have meant that natural motion was merely a part of the empirically observed motion of a falling (or rising) body, and that this observed motion is a compound of two different kinds of motion, one natural and the other unnatural.


In my talk I want to show why I think that Aristotle's physical works favour the latter view. I shall also show that if my hypothesis is correct, some riddles in Aristotle's physics can be solved, and that he might not have held the view that, ceteris paribus, heavier bodies fall faster than lighter ones.




Tony Freeth

United Kingdom


“Geared to the Cosmos: A voyage through the gears of the Antikythera Mechanism"


There has been huge progress in understanding the structure of the Antikythera Mechanism in the last few years. How close are we now to a complete mechanical reconstruction? This is a highly illustrated presentation that reveals the structure of the gear trains and at the same time asks key questions about the current state of knowledge. What is established? What is likely? What is missing or uncertain? The conclusion is that we are fairly close to a complete mechanical model, but we are not there yet.





Paul A. Iversen

Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, Ohio US


“The Antikythera Mechanism and Rhodes”


It has long been suggested that the Antikythera Mechanism may have been built on the island of Rhodes, one of the two locations in ancient Greece where celestial devices similar to the Mechanism are attested in literary sources as being constructed. This talk will strengthen the thesis of a Rhodian origin for the Mechanism by demonstrating, with good photos, epigraphical considerations and historical arguments, that the un-deciphered games in Year 4 of the Games Dial were the Halieia of Rhodes, a relatively unimportant set of games in honor of the sun god Helios (spelled Halios by the Dorian Greeks). I will also discuss the seasons of all the games on the Games Dial and the possible connection between the Rhodian calendar and the construction of the Games Dial, the Saros Eclipse Dial, and the Metonic Spiral (whose calendar is not from Rhodes). This discussion will have significant implications for determining the seasons of the months on the Metonic Spiral, as well as the seasons of the eclipses on the Saros Dial and the astronomical events of the Parapegma.




Teije de Jong

Astronomical Institute ‘Anton Pannekoek’, University of Amsterdam


“Babylonian period relations”


Using the observed dates of first and last visibilities of the planets and of their conjunctions with ‘Normal stars’ as recorded in the Astronomical Diaries and related texts Babylonian scholars managed to identify periods (counted in years) after which a planetary first/last visibility or a conjunction with a particular Normal star recurred on about the same date in their lunar calendar. The lengths of these periods vary from about 10 years to about 100 years. The earliest list of such periods dates from the late 7th century BC.

These periods provide the basis for the “Goal-year” method, the simple computational scheme developed by the Babylonian scholars to predict planetary positions at first and last appearance and at the stationary points by using observations from one period earlier. Preserved Goal-year texts date from the last three centuries BC.

The fundamental periods also form a significant first step in the construction of much longer periods, varying from 250 to 1500 years, which play a central role in the development of the elegant arithmetic schemes to predict the positions of planets for arbitrary dates (the ACT-type mathematical texts from the last three centuries BC). Typical accuracies of the predicted positions in these ephemerides are of the order of degrees, comparable to those of the later Hellenistic planetary models of Hipparchus and Ptolemy.

I will show that the long periods used in the Babylonian planetary theories can be constructed from linear combinations of the fundamental ones and I will suggest that all parameters of the planetary theory can be determined from dated observations alone. Once the parameters were determined only one observed position was required to generate positions for anyone time in the future.




Alexander R. Jones

ISAW New York University US


“The history of the fragments of the Antikythera Mechanism from 1901 to 2005: solved and unsolved problems”


The three first fragments of the Antikythera Mechanism were identified in May, 1902, about a year after they were recovered from the Antikythera wreck site. My talk will use contemporary published and unpublished sources to trace the story of this discovery (a topic of confusion in modern scholarship) and the ensuing events and processes that eventually resulted in the present 82 identified fragments.





Teun Koetsier

VU Amsterdam Netherlands


The Antikythera mechanism: between science and technology


Abstract: In 1963  E. J. Dijksterhuis and R. J. Forbes published :A History of Science and Technology". In the book they included a chapter on Greek science and a chapter on Greek and Roman  technology. Between these two chapters there is no relation whatsoever. In Classical Antiquity science and technology seem to have lived separate lives. Ten years later, in 1973, in "The Ancient Economy", Moses Finley argued that in Classical Antiquity  the elite had little interest in technical progress and economic growth. The modern attitude towards productivity and efficiency was absent among the Greeks and Romans. Such ideas are still very wide spread.

In my talk I will put the Antikythera mechanism in a wide context. I will argue that the views of Dijksterhuis, Forbes and Finley represent a nice first approximation. However, recent research (for example, J. P. Oleson’s "The Oxford Handbook of Engineering and Technology in the Classical World", 2008) has revealed a much richer picture. The idea that in Classical Antiquity technology progressed exceptionally slowly is simply wrong.  Moreover, the relation between technology, on the one hand, and science and  the elite, on the other hand, is much more complex.  I will argue that the Antikythera mechanism is an exceptionally beautiful example of an artifact that shows that the traditional view on the relation between science and technology must be amended.  




John D. Morgan

University of Delaware, Newark USA


“The Season of Karneios


In 2008 it was revealed that on the Metonic spiral of the Antikythera Mechanism there is a lunisolar calendar closely related to that of Corinth or one of her colonies in Epirus.  The second month of this calendar is Karneios, a month common to all the Dorian states of ancient Greece, which Plutarch (Nicias 28.1) says  coincided with the Athenian month Metageitnion (usually the 2nd month after the summer solstice in the Hellenistic and Roman periods). However, I shall review evidence that at Sparta the Karneia, a festival associated with the grape-harvest, usually fell one month later, after the heliacal rising of Arktouros in mid-September, that in the 5th century BC Karneios was usually the lunar month within which the autumn equinox fell in the Peloponnesos and at the Corinthian colony of Syracuse, and that Karneios fell at the same time of the season in the calendars of Issa (a Syracusan colony) in 57/56 BC and Syracuse itself in 34/35 AD.  I shall also present evidence for the slippage of Karneios by one month between the calendars of two nearby Cretan cities, Knosos and Gortyn, in the 2nd century BC, and indirect evidence for a similar slippage of Karneios by one month between the calendar of Korkyra and the calendars of Apollonia and Epidamnos in 208 BC.




Reviel Netz

Stanford University US


"The Ancient Astronomical Monument: Science between Text and Performance".


Astronomy was marked, among ancient sciences, in its emphasis on artifacts. Inscriptions, monuments and instruments are much more central in this field than in other fields of science. This may be related to another contrast: the ancient exact sciences seem to have been much less performative than other Greek cultural forms. Could the ancient astronomical monument be perceived, by its audience, as the astronomical correlate of performance - as the way in which the astronomical author asserted himself in the public sphere?




Tracey Rihll

Swansea University, Swansea United Kingdom


At present, the Antikythera mechanism looks like an extreme outlier in ancient technology. Part of the problem is that it doesn’t appear to be connected to the rest of ancient technology. It has no apparent lineage, forward or back. The Antikythera mechanism is unique. But it can also be viewed as a collection of components with histories. In this paper I shall try to chart the technological environment or landscape in which its maker was working, with particular emphasis on the components that went into the Antikythera mechanism, and with attention to the surviving material culture as well as to the surviving literary sources.




Robert van Gent

Utrecht University, The Netherlands


"Astrolabes - A Brief History from Antiquity to the Early Modern Period"


Astrolabes, as simplified models of the universe, are in several ways related to intricate geared instruments such as the Antikythera Mechanism. Studies in the origin and development of the astrolabe can therefor help in understanding similar and more complex mechanical devices.

This paper will present a brief overview of the planispheric astrolabe, its purpose and construction, its origin and development, and its influence on astronomy and scientific instrument making.




Andreas Winkler

University of Oxford, Griffith Institute United Kingdom


“The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Astrology”


How to construct a forecast

Like many other divinatory texts, the Demotic astrological manuals mainly consist of forecasts formulated as conditional clauses: a protasis describing the astronomical constellations is followed by a set of apodoses containing prognoses about the future life of the client.  This paper explores the methods by which the Egyptian astrologers determined a person’s future, focusing on the principles that guided the construction of the apodoses rather than the astronomical considerations that the astrologers might have taken into account. After a discussion of the mechanics of the astrological forecasts, a brief examination of how these writings fit the older indigenous divinatory tradition is presented.




Michael Wright

United Kingdom


“The Planetarium of Archimedes: a reconstruction”


We present a reconstruction of the planetarium instrument that Cicero ascribes to Archimedes, in the form of a working model. We argue for the adoption by Archimedes of toothed gearing and of mechanism furnishing retrograde episodes for the planets, while accepting that the instrument described may in reality have been devised after his time. We adopt mechanism similar to that recently suggested for the restoration of the Antikythera Mechanism, thereby demonstrating that it is practicable. The exercise provides a focus for the discussion of precursors to the Antikythera Mechanism and raises new questions about certain of its features.


“The Craft of Sphairopoiïa: the structure of the Antikythera Mechanism and the making of its parts”


We discuss practical aspects of the Antikythera Mechanism as a mechanical artefact, beginning with what can be learned about its arrangement and structure by examination of the extant fragments, and proceeding by observing the minimum requirements for its satisfactory function as an instrument. We illustrate the restoration of the whole through demonstration of our working model, distinguishing respects in which it is to be understood as a reconstruction of the original from features that were adopted merely for convenience. We discuss ways in which the parts of the original were probably made, drawing on our understanding of the tools available to the Hellenistic workman and their capabilities.