First computer may have told fortunes

Researchers say inscriptions on the 2,000-year-old Antikythera Mechanism, referred to as the world's first computer, may have been used for astrology. Rough Cut (No reporter narration).

A 2,000-year-old astronomical calculator used by ancient Greeks to chart the movement of the sun, moon and planets may also have had another purpose - fortune telling, researchers told a presentation in Athens on Thursday (June 9).

Heralded as the world's first computer, the Antikythera Mechanism is a system of intricate bronze gears dating to around 60 BC, used by ancient Greeks to track solar and lunar eclipses.

It was retrieved from a shipwreck discovered off the Greek island of Antikythera in 1901.

While researchers had previously focussed on its internal mechanisms, a decades- long study is now attempting to decode minute inscriptions on the fragments left of its outer surfaces. Modern technology such as three dimensional X-rays and surface imaging systems allowed researchers to decipher the more than 2,000 inscriptions.

"Undoubtedly the mechanism displayed planets as well as the sun and moon," said Mike Edmunds, an astrophysics professor from the University of Cardiff who has worked on the project for about 12 years.

"This is the first instance we have in the mechanism of any real mention of astrology rather than astronomy," he said, adding that the main objective of the mechanism was astronomical and not astrological.

Researchers say the device was probably made on the island of Rhodes and do not think it was unique. It's only unique in the sense that it is the only one ever found.

The calculator could add, multiply, divide and subtract. It was also able to align the number of lunar months with years and display where the sun and the moon were in the zodiac.

It is unclear what happened for that technology to have been lost as its mechanical

complexity would be unrivaled for at least another 1,000 years until the appearance of medieval clocks in European cathedrals.


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