HomeBlogCultures & traditionsThe Antikythera mechanism | Out-of-place artefacts

The Antikythera mechanism | Out-of-place artefacts

At home, I’m always finding out-of-place objects, but they’re usually fairly mundane – a CD in the wrong case, a spoon in the fork tray, that sort of thing. In archaeological terms, however, out of place artefacts (or OOPArts, as some people insist on calling them) are a bit more interesting. These are objects that technically shouldn’t exist, that appear in impossible places and that challenge our understanding of the past. They can be a bit confusing.

In this series, we’ll be taking a look at five OOPArts from around the world. Perhaps some of these objects provide evidence of alien contact (or time travel, or a prehistoric, Planet of the Apes-style civilisation). Perhaps they don’t. You decide…

The Antikythera mechanism | Greece

The Antikythera mechanism

On average, modern computers double in power every two years – we now have mobile phones with more power than the massive, room-filling machines that must’ve seemed so exciting in the olden days. However, these advances haven’t always been so quick – the Antikythera mechanism (sometimes called the world’s first analogue computer) was constructed sometime between 100 and 150BC, but it was so complex that nothing similar was built again until around 1,500 years later. (Both of these still pre-date the world’s greatest invention, travel insurance.)

Discovered in a shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera in 1901, it wasn’t until the 1970s that scientists worked out what the mechanism was used for. The machine is thought to have been an astronomical clock with the ability to track the phases of the moon, predict solar eclipses and possibly even tell the location of the planets. Further investigations suggested that the mechanism might also have been used to calculate the timing of the ancient Olympics, although I’m not sure why they felt they needed a computer for that.

A reconstruction of the Antikythera mechanism

Despite being broken into pieces on the seafloor, scientists are able to tell that the Antikythera mechanism would’ve had at least 30 gears and would’ve been significantly more advanced than anything else from the same period. As always, some people hold the (vaguely offensive) opinion that the ancient Greeks couldn’t possibly have made such a thing themselves and therefore must’ve had outside help. While researchers don’t accept this theory, they do find it puzzling that no other, less complex, mechanisms have ever been found – it’s like they’ve discovered an Xbox, but haven’t been able to find a Super Nintendo or an Atari to help explain the machine’s development.