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Scientists have been baffled by this 2,000-year-old ‘computer’ since it was discovered 120 years ago

Published Jun 3rd, 2023 3:10PM EDT
artistic rendering of first computer
Image: AkuAku / Adobe

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An amazingly complex computer from over 2,000 years ago has kept scientists on their toes since its discovery. The computer, which has been dubbed the ‘first computer,’ is what we call an Antikythera mechanism. It’s essentially an astronomical calendar that was first discovered in a Greek shipwreck in 1901.

The calendar is a hand-powered time-keeping instrument, researchers have determined. It uses a wind-up system that tracks the sun, the moon, and even the planets’ celestial time. Because it tracks the moon, it also works as a calendar, tracking the moon’s phases and even the timing of eclipses. It’s an intriguingly complex piece of old tech that has left scientists scratching their heads over it.

That’s because while a timepiece that winds up might sound simple enough to us, the mechanisms used in this first computer were ahead of their time. In fact, they were more technically sophisticated than any other tool we’ve discovered in the next 1,000 years. Unfortunately, the device is in 82 separate fragments right now, with only a third of its original structure still remaining.

The materials here include 30 corroded bronze gearwheels, making it impossible to actually see the device in action. Still, it’s hard not to be baffled by what those early pioneers of tech were able to pull off, despite being so technically behind. To get a better look at the device, experts at the University College London used a 3D modeling system to solve the mystery of how the device worked.

This research revealed that the first computer was a “creation of genius.” The researchers covered the device and their modeling work in-depth in a new paper published in Scientific Reports. Overall, the researchers believe that the device was capable of tracking far more than you’d expect from something created in that particular time period.

These kinds of discoveries give us a unique insight into the world of ancient times. Recent discoveries like an underwater temple have also given us intriguing information about that time period, providing insight into how people lived and thrived back then.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.