The Antikythera Mechanism was once thought to be used for navigation but a decades-long investigation into the 2,000-year-old-device has worked out that it may have been used for more than just astronomy and was a key divination tool.
It had been known that the bronze gears and displays was used to predict lunar and solar eclipses, along with the positions of the sun, moon, and planets. However, without a user manual, boffins have been trying to work out what it did using the same method that people work out how to programme their video recorders.
The Katerina Laskaridis Historical Foundation Library in Greece had a deeper look into the tiny inscriptions meticulously etched onto the outer surfaces of its 82 surviving fragments. Some of these letters measure just 1.2 millimetres (1/20th of an inch) across, and are engraved on the inside covers and visible front and back sections of the device. To do it, the researchers used cutting-edge imaging techniques, including x-ray scanning.
Mike Edmunds, a professor of astrophysics at Cardiff University said that the original investigation was intended to see how the mechanism works, and that was very successful.
“What we hadn’t realized was that the modern techniques that were being used would allow us to read the texts much better both on the outside of the mechanism and on the inside than was done before.”
There are 3,500 characters of explanatory text within the device.
The researchers described the machine as a kind of philosopher’s instructional device. The new analysis confirms that the mechanism displayed planets, while also showing the position of the sun and the moon in the sky. This was because it was used for divination. The researchers suspect this because some of the inscriptions on the device refer to the colour of a forthcoming eclipse.
The colour of an eclipse was some sort of omen or signal. Some colours might be better for what’s coming than others.
It was not a research tool for astronomers; it was more something you would use to teach about the cosmos and our place in the cosmos.
There is nothing in the Greek to suggest it could be used by an Ancient Version of IDC predicting a downturn in the Antikythera Mechanism, but it could well have been.