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News on the Antikythera Mechanism


From Hewlett Packard: "The Antikythera Mechanism is an ancient astronomical computer built by the Greeks around 80 B.C. It was found on a shipwreck by sponge divers in 1900, and its exact function still eludes scholars to this day. In September, 2005, as part of the Antikythera Research Project, HP was able to access the device in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens to apply reflectance imaging techniques to the front and rear surfaces of the > 70 fragments that comprise the mechanism."

[I would doubt the word 'computer'; orrery would be better.]

A metre-wide plastic dome, covered with flashbulbs, is used to take photos of an object lit from 50 different directions. The images are fed into a computer and used to make a reconstruction of how the surface of the object reflects light. Once that's done, you can ask the computer to light the object from any angle, even impossible ones like beneath its surface, or you can change how the surface reflects light - such as making the crumbling stone of a cuneiform tablet as shiny as metal. Then it's just a case of playing around to find the effect that makes the lettering as clear as possible.

You can try this for yourself on Hewlett Packard's website. Click on one of the images to download the interactive demo in a new window, then move the mouse around to change the direction of the light. Or  right click on the image to bring up a little menu, and under "effects" turn on "specular".

The applications in the field of archaeology are awesome (not a word I often use).

For more on the Antikythera Mechanism, see Jo Marchant's blog, Decoding the Heavens, especially the Stunning Antikythera video.


Visit Zenobia's blog at Empress of the East <>


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