The ancient celestial calculator


Neil Snarr - Contributing columnist



Celestial navigation, also known as astronavigation, “is the ancient and modern practice of position fixing using stars and other celestial bodies that enables a navigator to accurately determine his or her actual current physical position in space (or on the surface of the earth).”

A discovery in 1900 by sponge divers in the Mediterranean off the island of Antikythera resulted in the discovery of a 2,000-year-old Greek shipwreck containing this “mechanism.”

“The ship likely sank between 70 B.C. and 60 B.C. on a voyage from Asia Minor to Rome. The sponge divers salvaged from the ship three flat pieces of corroded bronze that later became known to be the Antikythera Mechanism.” This discovery has led to the establishment of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project which is, “an international collaboration of academic researcher supported by some of the world’s best high-technology companies, which aims to completely reassess the function and significance of the Antikythera Mechanism.”

“The Antikythera Mechanism has been called an ‘ancient calculator,’ but there is so much more to it than meets the eye. The shoebox-size devise has a complex gear wheel system of 30 intricate bronze gear wheels used to run a system that displayed the date, positions of the sun and moon, lunar phases, a 19-year calendar and a 223-month eclipse prediction dial. This makes it an analog computer of great complexity. No other machine of known existence shows a similarity in advanced engineering for at least another 1,000 years.”

In no way can I claim any significant knowledge of the physical sciences; I was trained as a social scientist! Why then am I presenting material about which I have no background?

For me, the answer is simple – because science and learning in general are under attack and there is a strong tendency to attribute ancient knowledge and wisdom to extra-terrestrials or some form of religious belief or revelation — and not to our brilliant precursors – in this case Archimedes, the brilliant Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, astronomer and inventor of the third century B.C.

Why would anyone want to deny the ancient scholars their rightful place in our slow progression toward modern science?

This mechanism is just one example of the many brilliant inventions contributed by our precursors to the world we enjoy. Then there are those contemporaries (not scholars) who make a living on undermining and destroying our world via falsehoods and pseudoscience.

As I have previously written, Erich von Daniken just might be the most successful of these tricksters – simple humbug!

Several scholars who respond to the thoughtless and baseless writings of this charlatan see his (and those with similar ideas) largest abuse as they “ignore the real achievements of our ancestors and … belittle the abilities and ingenuity of the human species as a whole.”

Reportedly Daniken has sold over 63 million copies of his books and they have been translated into 28 languages.

Fantasy in greater demand than knowledge — quite a commentary on the world in which we live!

Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus of Wilmington College.

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Neil Snarr

Contributing columnist