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Posted on Thursday, June 08 - 2006

Submitted by Rick Hamell: The size of a shoebox, a mysterious bronze device scooped out of a Roman-era shipwreck at the dawn of the 20th century has baffled scientists for years. Now a British researcher has stunningly established it as the world's oldest surviving astronomy computer. A team of Greek and British scientists probing the secrets of the Antikythera Mechanism has managed to decipher ancient Greek inscriptions unseen for over 2,000 years, members of the project say. "Part of the text on the machine, over 1,000 characters, had already been deciphered, but we have succeeded in doubling this total," said physician Yiannis Bitsakis, partof a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from universities in Athens, Salonika and Cardiff, the Athens National Archaeological Museum and the Hewlett-Packard company.

"We have now deciphered 95 percent of the text," he told AFP. Scooped out of a Roman shipwreck located in 1900 by sponge divers near the southern Greek island of Antikythera, and kept at the Athens National Archaeological Museum, the Mechanism contains over 30 bronze wheels and dials, and is covered in astronomical inscriptions. Probably operated by crank, it survives in three main pieces and some smaller fragments. "(The device) could calculate the position of certain stars, at least the Sun and Moon, and perhaps predict astronomical phenomena," said astrophysicist Xenophon Moussas ofAthens University. "It was probably rare, if not unique," he added. The rarity of the Antikythera Mechanism precluded its removal from the museum, so an eight-tonne 'body scanner' had to be assembled on-site for the privately-funded project, which used three-dimensional tomography to expose the unseen inscriptions. The first appraisal of the Mechanism's purpose was put forward in the 1960s by British science historian Derek Price, but the scientists' latest discovery raises more questions.

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Posted on Tuesday, May 23 - 2006

The archeologist Bob Benfer will never forget the moment when he realised that a pyramid he had unearthed high in the Andes was the New World’s oldest alarm clock. On a barren hillside just north of Lima, he had found an observatory more than 4,000 years old that had been built by a lost civilisation with astonishing sophistication. The oldest astronomical observatory in the Americas, it told farmers exactly when to sow their crops. Its discovery has provided startling clues to the way in which early man learnt to cultivate his fields. “I was staring up at a statue on a ridge above the temple andrealised it all aligned with the stars — it was an amazing moment,” the bearded scientist said last week.

“This alignment meant that at dawn at every winter solstice 4,200 years ago, key stars would appear in line with the temple and alert priests that river flooding was due and it was time to start planting crops. It was laid out as a wake-up call to the community.” Other archeologists now believe that Benfer, 67, has found a temple built in 2200BC, which proves that the ancient Andeans were familiar with the movements of the stars long before the ancient Britons finished Stonehenge, which many believe is linked to the heavens. Benfer stumbled across the temple while trawling through a green valley floor insearch of information about ancient diets. Working with a number of Peruvian colleagues, he unearthed a 30ft-high pyramid that had once been brightly painted red and white. He believes that it served its community, known as the Kotosh people, for 800 years. The 20-acre site is dominated by two buildings. The northern pyramid, which Benfer has called the Temple of the Fox after a painting of the animal, is built around a priests’ platform.

user posted image View: Full Article | Source: Times Online

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Posted on Friday, May 12 - 2006

by Derek J. de Solla Price From June 1959 Scientific American p.60-7

In 1901 divers working off the isle of Antikythera found the remains of a clocklike mechanism 2,000 years old.  The mechanism now appears to have been a device for calculating the motions of stars and planets among the treasures of the Greek National Archaeological Museum in Athens are the remains of the most complex scientific object that has been preserved from antiquity. Corroded and crumbling from 2,000 years under the sea, its dials, gear wheels and inscribed plates present the historian with a tantalizing problem. Because of them we may have to revise many of our estimates of Greek science. By studying them we may find vital clues to the true origins of that high scientific technology which hitherto has seemed peculiar to our modern civilization, setting it apart from all cultures of the past.    From the evidence of the fragments one can get a good idea of the appearance of the original object.

Consisting of a box with dials on the outside and a very complex assembly of gear wheels mounted within, it must have resembled a well- made 18ih-century clock. Doors hinged to the box served to protect the dials, and on all available surfaces of box, doors and dials there were long Greek inscriptions describing the operation and construction of the instrument. At least 20 gear wheels of the mechanism have been preserved, including a very sophisticated assembly of gears that were mounted eccentrically on a turntable and probably functioned as a sort of epicyclic or differential, gear-system.    Nothing like this instrument is preserved elsewhere. Nothing comparable to it is known. from any ancient scientific text or literary allusion. On the contrary, from all that we know of science and technology in the Hellenistic Age we should have felt that such a device could not exist. Some historians have suggested that the Greeks were not interested in experiment because of a contempt-perhaps induced by the existence of the institution of slavery-for manual labor. On the other hand it has long been recognized that in abstract mathematics and in mathematical astronomy they were no beginners but rather "fellows of another college" who reached great heights of sophistication. Many of the Greek scientific devices known to us from written descriptions show much mathematical ingenuity, but in all cases the purely mechanical part of the design seems relatively crude.

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Posted on Sunday, May 07 - 2006

The ancient battery in the Baghdad Museum.

Baghdad's National Museum in Iraq houses some of the world's finest treasures dating from the beginning of recorded civilisation. In 2003, during the chaos of war in Iraq, the National Museum was looted. The tragic loss may include more than just priceless vases, seals and statues however. Before the war started, BBC reported on the museum's unusual 2000-year-old artefacts known as the "Baghdad Batteries".The "Baghdad Batteries" are 13cm high earthenware jars, one of which was first discovered by German archaeologist Wilhelm Konig in 1938. Up to a dozen of the jars are said to have been found. The function of the jars has been much debated, as thereis no written record of them.The jars contain a vertical cylinder made of sheet copper and an iron rod.

The edges of the sheet copper were soldered together to make the cylinder, using 60/40 silver-lead solder similar to that used in electronics today. The top of the jar and both ends of the cylinder were sealed with asphalt. The iron rod was held in place at the centre of the cylinder by the asphalt. Mr Konig found the iron rod was corroded, as if it had been etched by acid. Dissimilar metals such as iron and copper form an electrochemical couple when submerged in an electrolyte such as acid, producing electricity. Mr Konig concluded that the jars could have been filled with an electrolyte, and suggested they were used for gilding gold onto silver – a process today known as electroplating. Following World War IImany archaeologists around the world built replicas of the batteries and some attempted electroplating with them. Various attempts using grape juice, vinegar and modern electrolytes produced around 0.8 – 2 volts, similar to today's zinc-carbon batteries. Placed in series the batteries could produce higher voltage, although no wires have been found associated with jars. Other suggestions as to the use of the batteries include medicinal uses. The early Greeks and Romans are known to have used electric eels to treat cases of gout, so scientists have suggested the batteries may have been used for a similar purpose. The batteries may also have been used to electrify acupuncture needles as is done by some acupuncturists today. Although acupuncture was practised in ancient China it is unknown whether it was practiced in ancient Iraq. The age of thebatteries i......

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