The world’s oldest computer is still revealing its secrets

By Sarah Kaplan The Washington Post.

An international team of archaeologists, astronomers and historians have spent the past 10 years deciphering the many mysteries of the Antikythera Mechanism, the world’s first mechanical computer. (Thomas Johnson/The Washington Post).

Item 15087 wasn’t much to look at, particularly compared to other wonders uncovered from the shipwreck at Antikythera, Greece, in 1901. The underwater excavation revealed gorgeous bronze sculptures, ropes of decadent jewelry and a treasure trove of antique coins.

Amid all that splendor, who could have guessed that a shoebox-size mangled bronze machine, its inscriptions barely legible, its gears calcified and corroded, would be the discovery that could captivate scientists for more than a century?

“In this very small volume of messed-up corroded metal you have packed in there enough knowledge to fill several books telling us about ancient technology, ancient science and the way these interacted with the broader culture of the time,” said Alexander Jones, a historian of ancient science at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. “It would be hard to dispute that this is the single most information-rich object that has been uncovered by archaeologists from ancient times.”

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