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Scientists use gravitational wave research to shed light on 2000-year-old computer

Researchers used Bayesian analysis and gravitational wave research to help identify the purpose of one of the computer’s mysterious ‘calendar rings’.

Since its discovery over a hundred years ago, the Antikythera mechanism—a 2,000-year-old mechanical computer recovered from an ancient shipwreck off the coast of Greece—has been one of the most remarkable mysteries in archaeology, and new research may reveal further clues about its purpose.

A new study published last week in the Horological Journal reveals fresh details about the ancient Antikythera mechanism, a sophisticated hand-operated mechanical computer discovered in 1901 near the Greek island of Antikythera.

Divers exploring a sunken shipwreck found the shoebox-sized device, which dates back to the second century BCE. Although fragmented and heavily corroded, its intricate gears hinted at a complex mechanism that appears to predict eclipses and calculate the astronomical positions of planets.

Now, recent research by scientists at the University of Glasgow (UG) has provided new insights into the mechanism’s so-called ‘calendar ring’. Utilizing statistical analysis techniques, the researchers determined that the ring most likely contained 354 holes, aligning with the lunar calendar rather than the Egyptian or other 360-day calendars.

Graham Woan, a professor at UG’s School of Physics & Astronomy spearheaded the study after getting an unusual tip from a colleague. “Towards the end of last year, a colleague pointed to me to data acquired by YouTuber Chris Budiselic, who was looking to make a replica of the calendar ring and was investigating ways to determine just how many holes it contained,” Woan said in a UG statement.

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