December 9th, 02010 by Simone Davalos
The Antikythera Mechanism, pulled from the depths of a 1st or 2nd century wreck off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera, is the oldest known complex scientific calculator. From the moment it was discovered it baffled scientists and historians who wonders what the provenance and purpose of such a machine could have been, especially since a machine of that complexity didn’t enter into the historical record for another thousand years.
Hypotheses abounded: it was an orrery, it was a navigational device, it was a method of contact with extraterrestrial beings that left it as a gift for the human race. It has only been over the last fifty years that any headway at all on what the device did has been made, and, to the great disappointment of the alien conspiracists, what it actually does is probably way cooler for such an ancient culture than anything the aliens might have left.
The machine tracks complicated interactions between heavenly bodies, such as eclipses, and does it all with gears and cams and a healthy helping of deep-fried awesome. Sound familiar?
These guys have taken interest in the mechanism to a beautiful, meticulous extreme, and have constructed one out of Lego.
Here is a time lapse of how the video was made, which is just as neat as the actual video:
The Clock of the Long Now is right up there in elegance of design with the Antikythera mechanism, although of course this author is biased. The Greeks, however, have the sheer engineering bad-ass advantage, as they made their machine without PTC Pro Engineer.
For more information about the history of and research on the Antikythera Mechanism, please see the very fine Antikythera Mechanism Research Project, a multi-national collaboration of scientists and historians, which drops mad science from a huge variety of fields.
[Thanks to Boing Boing for the original video link]