New York.- By Vicki J. Yiannias
“With the Antikythera Mechanism we have to realize the history and the evolution of technology. It is a unique instrument that managed to put into practice the theoretical knowledge of the ancient Greeks, in particular the astronomers, in a geared mechanism. And this is fantastic,” said astrophysicist Dr. John Seiradakis of Aristotle University, Thessaloniki, a member of The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project, Greek News, referring to the ancient astronomical calendar nicknamed “the worldʼs first computer”.
We were looking at a brand new, shiny bronze replica of how the original mechanism he was talking about looked before 2,000 years of submersion in the Aegean Sea had corroded it into what to an ordinary observer might think was just a mass of oxidized bronze, its original function totally unrecognizable. The original mechanism was found by sponge divers in a shipwreck 60 meters down, off the Greek island of Antikythera in 1900 and is now housed in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
Introduced by Dr. Xenophon Moussas, Director of the Astrophysics Laboratory of the University of Athens and Dr. Seiradakis, the replica was making its debut on April 24 at a Childrenʼs Museum of Manhattan Spring Benefit held at the Central Park Boathouse (donated by owner Dean J. Poll) in support of the exhibition Gods, Myths and Mortals: Discover Ancient Greece, where it is now a highlight. That evening a $250,000 challenge gift from the Jaharis Family Foundation to help the Childrenʼs Museum reach its funding goals for this exhibition was announced.
This newest reconstruction of the replica, the first of its kind in America, commissioned exclusively for the Gods, Myths and Mortals: Discover Ancient Greece exhibition and belonging to the museum, was created by Dionisios Kriaris in collaboration with Dr. Moussas and The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project team.
The audience were privileged to hear Dr. Moussas present his new theory on the Mechanism, which refers to its possible use in measuring time and geographic longitude. In addition to the presence of the replica, the evident passionate immersion of Dr. Moussas of Dr. Seiradakis in the research project inspired awe and admiration for the project.
The Antykithera Mechanism, known to model astronomical phenomenon with remarkable detail, is the earliest known device to contain an intricate set of gear wheels. In a very brief description of its capabilities, Dr. Moussas told The Greek News that the mechanism calculates the positions of the sun and moon every day and every hour, determines the time of lunar and solar eclipses, describes the motion of the moon in accordance with Keplerʼs Law — which he finds incredible — holds a perfectly accurate 76 year calendar, and designates the time of the Olympic Games.
One of the reasons the discovery of a mechanism like this from ancient times is astonishing, is that ancient Greece was known for its philosophers and mathematicians, said Seiradakis, and geometry was very advanced, and arhitecture, “but very few dealt with technology. There were a few of course, for example Archimedes and Chiron, and a few others, but nothing similar to this device was constructed for the next sixteen centuries.” The next similar device was the Prague clock, he said, however, surprisingly, the clock is not as complicated as the Antikythera Mechanism.
The obvious question, it seems, is why was such an important invention lost? There are a few possible reasons, said Seiradakis. “There were other mechanisms that were lost in shipwrecks, or maybe they were recycled…. bronze was a very important metal at the time and was recycled quite often. Or maybe the person that actually thought about it and made it, died…such a complicated device needed a genius and he may have transferred the knowledge to some of his students who perhaps were not able to understand it. Another reason might have been that the Romans invaded Greece, and as you know, the bird does not sing as nicely or as loudly in a cage…philosophy and science need freedom.”
Andrew Ackerman, Executive Director of the Childrenʼs Museum of Manhattan and a near eastern archaeologist, told The Greek News that he has never before seen any other object from antiquity as interesting, bewildering, complex and wonderful as the Antikythera Mechanism. Dr. Moussas knows firsthand how exciting such discoveries can be, said Ackerman. “One of the reasons that Dr. Moussas really wanted to show the Mechanism at the Childrenʼs Museum is that he had first discovered it himself at the museum in Athens when he was just eleven years old, and he wanted children here to experience the same excitement he had felt. People will marvel,” said Ackerman, “thatʼs why I wanted to show it”.
The other members of The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project core team are leading astronomer Mike Edmunds, mathematician Tony Freeth (University of Cardiff, UK), physicist Yannis Bitsakis (University of Athens), and philologist and palaeographer Agamemnon Tselikas (National Bank of Greece Cultural Foundation).
Among of the notable guests at the reception were His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Lt. Governor David Paterson, Fr. Alex Karloutsos, President Emeritus of NYU, John Brademas, Margo and John Catsimatides, Michael & Mary Jaharis, Evangeline Douris (HANAC), Chryssanthos Petsillas (Greek National Tourist Organization), Tassos Manessis, Dino Ralis (Federation of Hellenic Societies), CMOM Board Chairman Mark Pearlman, Hildy Simmons, representing the Stavros S. Niarchos Foundation, and author Eric Metaxas, to name a few.