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Mystery of Ancient Astronomical Calculator Unveiled

Welsh Researchers Crack Workings of Calculator Dating From Second Century B.C., Findings Published in Nature Magazine

CARDIFF, WALES, UK -- (MARKET WIRE) -- 11/30/06 -- A team led by Cardiff University researchers has unravelled the secrets of a 2,000-year-old computer which could transform the way we think about the ancient world.

Professor Mike Edmunds and Dr. Tony Freeth of Cardiff University led the team who believe they have finally cracked the workings of the Antikythera Mechanism, a clock-like astronomical calculator dating from the second century B.C. Cardiff University, located in the capital of Wales about two hours from London, is one of Britain's leading teaching and research universities.

The team is unveiling its full findings at a two-day international conference in Athens today and tomorrow, and publishing the research in the journal Nature. The researchers are now hoping to create a computer model of how the machine worked, and, in time, a full working replica.

Remnants of a broken wooden and bronze case containing more than 30 gears was found by divers exploring a shipwreck off the island of Antikythera (off the coast of Crete) at the turn of the 20th century. Scientists have been trying to reconstruct it ever since. The new research suggests it is more sophisticated than anyone previously thought.

Detailed work on the gears in the mechanism show that it was able to track astronomical movements with remarkable precision. The calculator was able to follow the movements of the moon and the sun through the Zodiac, predict eclipses and even recreate the irregular orbit of the moon. The team believes it may also have predicted the positions of some or all of the planets.

The findings suggest that Greek technology was far more advanced than previously thought. No other civilisation is known to have created anything as complicated for another thousand years.

Professor Edmunds said: "This device is just extraordinary, the only thing of its kind. The design is beautiful, the astronomy is exactly right. The way the mechanics are designed just makes your jaw drop. Whoever has done this has done it extremely well."

The team was made up of researchers from Cardiff, the National Archaeological Museum of Athens and the Universities of Athens and Thessaloniki, supported by a substantial grant from the Leverhulme Trust. They were greatly aided by Hertfordshire X-Tek, who developed powerful X-Ray computer technology to help them study the corroded fragments of the machine. Computer giant Hewlett-Packard provided imaging technology to enhance the surface details of the machine.

The mechanism is in more than 80 pieces and stored in precisely controlled conditions in Athens where it cannot be touched. Recreating its workings was a difficult, painstaking process, involving astronomers, mathematicians, computer experts, script analysts and conservation experts.

It is still uncertain what the ancient Greeks used the mechanism for, or how widespread this technology was.

Professor Edmunds said: "It does raise the question what else were they making at the time. In terms of historic and scarcity value, I have to regard this mechanism as being more valuable than the Mona Lisa."

For further information and pictures of the device contact:

John Mulqueen
212.620.7100 ext. 229

Professor Mike Edmunds,
Cardiff School of Physics and Astronomy
Cardiff University
Tel: +44 2920 874043
Tel: +44 7763 324070 (mobile)
Email Contact

Stephen Rouse,
Public Relations Office
Cardiff University
Tel: +44 2920 875596
e-mail: Email Contact

Helen Jamison, PhD
Assistant Press Officer
Nature
Tel: +44 207 843 4658
Fax: +44 207 843 4951
E-mail: Email Contact

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