|Current Workshop | Overview||Back | Home | Search ||
The Antikythera Mechanism: Science and Innovation in the Ancient World
The Antikythera Mechanism is the most sophisticated scientific instrument of the ancient world. It is an astronomical computer of perplexing complexity, testimony of the awe-inspiring and surprisingly advanced astronomical and technological knowledge and skills of the Hellenistic and Roman world. The workshop accommodated a unique assembly of specialists from the exact sciences (mathematics and astronomy) and the humanities (historians, classicists, and archaeologists). It included nearly all of the most prominent experts on the subject of the Antikythera Mechanism, and also included museum curators of the Nat'l Archaeological Museum in Athens and Museum Boerhaave in Leiden. It focused on the latest state-of-the-art technical research done on the surviving fragments of the mechanism and discussed the implications for our understanding of astronomical knowledge and worldview in the ancient world. Particularly important was the focus of the workshop on the wider historic, social, and economic context of the instrument.
The workshop acquired a very high level of media attention. This included 5 radio interviews, including the Belgian national radio, and also involved long newspaper articles in the Volkskrant and NRC. The workshop itself was highly successful. It was the first time that such a diverse and large group of experts met around the same topic. Brill publishers has approached the organizers of the conference to assemble the various contributions, or related reviews, in an edited volume in the series "Technology and Change in History".
We can distinguish at least five major elements in the workshop. The first was an update and extensive discussion of developments with respect the analysis of the technical construction and inscriptions of the Antikythera mechanism. The second focused on reconstructions of the mechanism, in particular on planetary extensions. A third element involved a range of historical, social and philosophical discussions on the context of the mechanism and the scientific knowledge it entailed. A truly outstanding new element was the extensive attention to the Antikythera shipwreck, strongly supported by the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, as well as Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution with respect to the new diving expeditions in the area of the island Antikythera. Finally, the workshop tried to include presentations and discussions on scientific and technical knowledge in other civilizations (Arab, Mesopotamian, Jewish).
Amongst the many contributions, we may single out three as examples that introduced original new insights. The first one was the excellent discussion on the contents and structure of the Antikythera shipwreck by Anastasia Gadoulou, shedding light even on the crew and passengers of the ship. The second was the systematic inventory by Tracey Rihll of technological know-how that was available in Graeco-Roman antiquity, as attested by an extensive range of artefacts. It offered unexpected new insights and emphasized that the mechanism should be entirely regarded as a product of its time. The third one were the hard-ware models by Michael Wright of the planetary extension of the Antikythera Mechanism and of Archimedes' Sphaera.
The context of the Lorentz Center proved ideal for the workshop. The excellent facilities, at the Center itself as well as at the hotel, lead to long and intense discussions, nearly all days until late at night. On the other hand, due to a range of circumstances it did not prove possible to devote more attention to the analysis of inscriptions. Hopefully this may be improved in an ensuing meeting.