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Alexander Jones

The Antikythera Mechanism (National Archaeological Museum, Athens, inv. X 15087) was a Hellenistic gearwork device for displaying astronomical and chronological functions. Substantial but highly corroded remains of the instrument were recovered from an ancient shipwreck (see Figure 1).

The most complex scientific instrument to have survived from antiquity, it resembled the sphaerae or planetaria described by Cicero (1) and other Greco-Roman authors. The date of its construction is in dispute but must have been earlier than the middle of the 1st centurybce and can scarcely have been before the end of the 3rd centurybce. It is an invaluable witness for ancient mechanical technology at its most advanced level (see mechanics) as well as for Hellenistic astronomy.



Robert Hannah

Time, or the passage of time, was told through a variety of means in antiquity—via one’s own body, through the actual or calculated movement of celestial bodies (sun, moon, and stars), and by means of artificial instruments, including sundials, water clocks, and various forms of timers. While the natural or built environments could provide large-scale, immobile backdrops to aid with telling the time, there were also miniature instruments that could be carried by hand around the known world with remarkable confidence in their accuracy. And while the simplest form of timing might be provided by one’s own body—such as through its hunger or its shadow—there were also artificial mechanisms of such extraordinary ingenuity and complexity that their like would not be seen for another millennium, and whose remains still elude complete explanation.At the popular level, marking time in the day could utilize simply the shadow cast on the ground by a person and measured by the person’s own feet (cf. .