Antikythera Mechanism

Ask anyone what comes to mind when pondering ancient Greece; I guarantee they won’t say analog computer. We harbor vague ideas about ancient cultures. For most, it’s what we learned in school, dusty textbooks our only inspiration School children grind pencil crayons to stubs coloring depictions of the Sphinx, Roman Coliseum or Greek Gods for title pages of social studies reports. Neat little packages of safe assumption are recycled from generation to generation. Textbooks ignore dusty corners that defy explanation. Homogenized ancient history timelines never stray from middle of the road safety. No questions please, sense of wonder not required.

Thankfully I didn’t buy it. I always knew dark, dusty corners had stories to tell. Every time I look at them, astonishment feeds my sense of wonder, it makes me giddy knowing past civilizations kicked ass in ways we may never understand.

At the beginning of the 20th century sponge divers off Antikythera island found a bronze device along side cargo from an ancient shipwreck.No bigger than a laptop it’s stumped historians for well over 100 years. Known as the Antikythera Mechanism, it is referred to as the world’s first computer.

The mechanism resides at the Greek National Archaeological Museum in Athens. British archaeologist Derek Price voiced a theory in 1959 that it was a device to calculate astronomical events. In 1974 Price built a model, attempting to show how entering past, present, and future dates could predict everything from solar and lunar eclipses to moon phases and position of the planets. Modern x-ray imaging reveal at least 30 gears; each one a different size, with different numbers of interlocking notches and pointers. The device has over 2000 characters, most deciphered, but never published. Believed to hail from around 100 BC, it was found with wreckage of a massive Roman ship, but is considered Greek – most likely the spoil of war.

It’s hard to verbalize how satisfying it is each time I learn of an ancient head scratcher. The reason doesn’t really matter to me, for as long as I can remember I’ve believed history was not as it seems. I smile every time we have more questions than answers.  Ponder a 2000 year old machine that after 100 years we still don’t fully understand. Enter it on the list of other things we didn’t learn at school;  Derinkuyu, Catalhoyuk, Gobekli Tepe, Puma Punku, and Nabta Playa – you all shatter dusty timelines or elude explanation, and no one has even heard of you. We’ve all heard of ancient Greece, I won’t hold my breath but hope that might be enough to start looking at things differently. The Antikythera Mechanism doesn’t shatter timelines, all the same I’d love to hear my seventh grade teacher explain it to the class.

Finding Atlantis

The expression ” rewriting history” couldn’t be more accurate if it tried. History is a chameleon, changing colour as it reflects the perspective of individual orators. Inoffensive landmarks faithfully, universally noted – controversial or distasteful facts, omitted or presented in more favourable light. History is a subject open to interpretation; often a best guess or comfortable middle ground. The last few thousand years are easy. Reasonable written records piece together an accurate portrait of humanity’s sordid parade.

Ancient history is another story; a far different story than I learned in school. I was taught that “civilization ” began in Mesopotamia. I learned of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Taught that civilization began with the advent of written language, I happily absorbed my lessons, textbook timeline and all.

Now I’m wishing they would find Atlantis. The only written record comes from Greek philosopher Plato in 360 B.C. He described the city in great detail, dating it to 9,600 B.C. That would put it thousands of years before Mesopotamia. Many scholars believe Plato wrote of Atlantis, not as fact, rather as a tool to express his ideas on society. At the heart of the debate are the extreme details Plato used to describe the physical lay out of the city. If simply a metaphor, why would he painstakingly scribe such details?

Archaeologists and historians have placed it under Antarctic ice, off the coast of the Bahamas, under Spanish marshland, and in the Aegean Sea. It tickles our imagination; fuelling tales of Poseidon and Captain Nemo. Finding this mythical city would re-write history.

We need to find Atlantis because we’ve all heard of it. Atlantis would be the spark needed to ignite the accepted timeline of civilization – blowing it to smithereens. I can think of no other course of action; Atlantis would tip the cart. My dismay stems from the realization my textbook history was shot full of holes years ago. Watching my children; dutifully hand in the same reports I did; colouring the same tired historical march, not once presented with possibilities of civilization lost.

Mention civilization lost and most people would think of Atlantis or Shangra-La. Not a shred of evidence has ever been found to support either. Meanwhile, irrefutable scientific evidence dates Gobekli Tepe at 7000 years before the pyramids. Puma Punku is older than that, perhaps the oldest structure on earth. These aren’t stone huts, I’m talking mind boggling monolithic stone structures.Places that defy explanation Documents such as the Piri Reis map, showing the outline of Antarctica under miles of ice;.as it would have been before the last ice age.

Ancient history has more questions than answers.One thing for certain; the cradle of civilization is no more Mesopotamia than the world is flat. We can’t discount facts simply because we don’t have all the answers. A closed mind is a sorry excuse, it’s time to re-write history.