Laminated Linen Protected Alexander the Great

Alexander's men wore linothorax, a highly effective type of body armor created by laminating together layers of linen, research finds.

A Kevlar-like armor might have helped Alexander the Great (356 323 B.C.) conquer nearly the entirety of the known world in little more than two decades, according to new reconstructive archaeology research.

Presented at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Anaheim, Calif., the study suggests that Alexander and his soldiers protected themselves with linothorax, a type of body armor made by laminating together layers of linen.

"While we know quite a lot about ancient armor made from metal, linothorax remains something of a mystery since no examples have survived, due to the perishable nature of the material," Gregory Aldrete, professor of history and humanistic studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, told Discovery News.

"Nevertheless, we have managed to show that this linen armor thrived as a form of body protection for nearly 1,000 years, and was used by a wide variety of ancient Mediterranean civilizations," Aldrete said.

Indeed, Aldrede and co-investigator Scott Bartell discovered that linothorax was widely mentioned in ancient records.

"Currently we have 27 descriptions by 18 different ancient authors and nearly 700 visual images on objects ranging from Greek vases to Etruscan temple reliefs," Aldrete said.

The main visual evidence for Alexander wearing linothorax is the famous "Alexander Mosaic" from Pompeii, in which the Macedonian king is depicted with this sort of armor.

Indeed, in his "Life of Alexander," the Greek historian Plutarch states that Alexander wore "a breastplate of folded (or doubled) linen" at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 B.C. This battle a was a huge victory for the Greeks and led to the fall of the Achaemenid Empire.

According to the researchers, there is further evidence that linen breastplates were standard equipment in the Macedonian army.

"When Alexander was in India, and received 25,000 new suits of armor for his army, he is described as having ordered the old worn-out suits of armor to be burned. This would only make sense if they had been made of fabric rather than metal," Aldrete said.

In order to determine how wearable this armor was, and how effective it would have been in protecting its wearer from arrows and other battlefield hazards, Aldrete and Bartell reconstructed several complete sets of linen armor using only material that were only available in the ancient world.

"The hardest part of the project was finding truly authentic linen. It had to be made from flax plants that were grown, harvested and processed, spun and woven by hand," Aldrete said.

The other key ingredient was glue, which was placed over various layers of linen. The researchers chose to work with two simpler glues that would have been available everywhere: a glue made from the skins of rabbits and another from flax seeds.

Tests included shooting the resulting patches with arrows and hitting them with a variety of weapons including swords, axes and spears.

"Our controlled experiments basically dispelled the myth that armor made out of cloth must have been inferior to other available types. Indeed, the laminated layers function like an ancient version of modern Kevlar armor, using the flexibility of the fabric to disperse the force of the incoming arrow," Aldrete said.

According to Heidi Sherman, linen expert and professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, the researchers have achieved some very convincing results.

"One cannot know with complete certainty how close the model is to the linen armor used by Alexander the Great's army, but several layers of fused linen can indeed withstand quite a rigorous battering. They would have provided ample protection under rather extreme conditions," Sherman told Discovery News.

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News

Hellenistic Coins Discovered in Northern Syria

The coins were found by a local man as he was preparing his land for construction, uncovering a bronze box that contained around 250 coins. He promptly delivered the coins to the authorities who in turn delivered them to Aleppo Department of Archaeology and Museum.

Director of archaeological excavations at Aleppo Department of Archaeology and Museum Yousef Kanjo said the box contained two groups of silver Hellenistic coins: 137 tetra drachma (four drachmas) coins and 115 drachma coins.

One side of the tetra drachma coins depicts Alexander the Great, while the other side depicts the Greek god Zeus sitting on a throne with an eagle on his outstretched right arm. 34 of these coins bear the inscription "King Alexander" in Greek, while 81 coins bear the inscription "Alexander" and 22 coins bear "King Phillip."

The drachma coins bear the same images as the tetra drachma, with "Alexander" inscribed on 100 of them and "Philip" on 15 of them.

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News

Science Historian Cracks the Plato Code

Plato was the Einstein of Greece's Golden Age and his work founded Western culture and science. Dr Jay Kennedy's findings are set to revolutionise the history of the origins of Western thought.

Dr Kennedy, whose findings are published in the leading US journal Apeiron, reveals that Plato used a regular pattern of symbols, inherited from the ancient followers of Pythagoras, to give his books a musical structure. A century earlier, Pythagoras had declared that the planets and stars made an inaudible music, a 'harmony of the spheres'. Plato imitated this hidden music in his books.

The hidden codes show that Plato anticipated the Scientific Revolution 2,000 years before Isaac Newton, discovering its most important idea -- the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics. The decoded messages also open up a surprising way to unite science and religion. The awe and beauty we feel in nature, Plato says, shows that it is divine; discovering the scientific order of nature is getting closer to God. This could transform today's culture wars between science and religion.

"Plato's books played a major role in founding Western culture but they are mysterious and end in riddles," Dr Kennedy, at Manchester's Faculty of Life Sciences explains.

"In antiquity, many of his followers said the books contained hidden layers of meaning and secret codes, but this was rejected by modern scholars.

"It is a long and exciting story, but basically I cracked the code. I have shown rigorously that the books do contain codes and symbols and that unraveling them reveals the hidden philosophy of Plato.

"This is a true discovery, not simply reinterpretation."

This will transform the early history of Western thought, and especially the histories of ancient science, mathematics, music, and philosophy.

Dr Kennedy spent five years studying Plato's writing and found that in his best-known work the Republic he placed clusters of words related to music after each twelfth of the text -- at one-twelfth, two-twelfths, etc. This regular pattern represented the twelve notes of a Greek musical scale. Some notes were harmonic, others dissonant. At the locations of the harmonic notes he described sounds associated with love or laughter, while the locations of dissonant notes were marked with screeching sounds or war or death. This musical code was key to cracking Plato's entire symbolic system.

Dr Kennedy, a researcher in the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, says: "As we read his books, our emotions follow the ups and downs of a musical scale. Plato plays his readers like musical instruments."

However Plato did not design his secret patterns purely for pleasure -- it was for his own safety. Plato's ideas were a dangerous threat to Greek religion. He said that mathematical laws and not the gods controlled the universe. Plato's own teacher had been executed for heresy. Secrecy was normal in ancient times, especially for esoteric and religious knowledge, but for Plato it was a matter of life and death. Encoding his ideas in secret patterns was the only way to be safe.

Plato led a dramatic and fascinating life. Born four centuries before Christ, when Sparta defeated plague-ravaged Athens, he wrote 30 books and founded the world's first university, called the Academy. He was a feminist, allowing women to study at the Academy, the first great defender of romantic love (as opposed to marriages arranged for political or financial reasons) and defended homosexuality in his books. In addition, he was captured by pirates and sold into slavery before being ransomed by friends.

Dr Kennedy explains: "Plato's importance cannot be overstated. He shifted humanity from a warrior society to a wisdom society. Today our heroes are Einstein and Shakespeare -- and not knights in shining armour -- because of him."

Over the years Dr Kennedy carefully peeled back layer after symbolic layer, sharing each step in lectures in Manchester and with experts in the UK and US.

He recalls: "There was no Rosetta Stone. To announce a result like this I needed rigorous, independent proofs based on crystal-clear evidence.

"The result was amazing -- it was like opening a tomb and finding new set of gospels written by Jesus Christ himself.

"Plato is smiling. He sent us a time capsule."

Dr Kennedy's findings are not only surprising and important; they overthrow conventional wisdom on Plato. Modern historians have always denied that there were codes; now Dr Kennedy has proved otherwise.

He adds: "This is the beginning of something big. It will take a generation to work out the implications. All 2,000 pages contain undetected symbols."

Project Troia: Bronze Age Troy Just Keeps on Growing

German archaeologists have made new discoveries at modern day Hisarlik, northwest Turkey ancient Troy.

The finds further confirm the area occupied during the Bronze Age was not limited to the citadel; Troy VI and VII were much larger than originally thought.

The three year research project at Troy lead by Prof. Ernst Pernicka, from the University of Tubingen's Institute of Pre- and Early History sees scholars focus on the analysis and publication of materials found since the university started excavations at the site in 1988.

But to investigate and resolve outstanding issues, Project Troia does undertake some smaller excavations.

These digs, in combination with geophysical surveying and the drilling of test holes, allow the team to narrow down the Bronze Age occupation below Troy's citadel more closely.

This year, the team confirmed the layout of a one kilometre long Late Bronze Age defensive system a rock-cut ditch south of the Troy hillfort.

A gate, situated in the southeast area of the trench, is now fully excavated. It is located some 300 metres south of the citadel wall, and dated to about 1300 BC. The passage is about five metres wide, smaller than the ditch's previously excavated southern gate.

Late Bronze Age layers came to light in the vicinity of the southeastern gate remains of walls, roads, storage pits and even an ancient oven. The finds suggest the area was occupied from about about 1700 (Troy VI) to 1100 BC (Troy VII). Soil samples, taken 200 metres east of the citadel, reveal Bronze Age remains as well.

Further east, a second trench was discovered, significantly deeper and wider than the excavated ditch. This structure isn't dated yet, but will be further examined next season.

The archaeological site of Hisarlik was first excavated in the 19th century not without controversy by self-taught archaeologists Heinrich Schliemann.

Rather than being one ancient city, it consists of multiple layers of ruins. From the early Bronze Age (3rd millennium BC) until the Roman Period (1st century BC), at least nine cities Troy I to IX existed at the archaeological site; there ruins are stacked up to 15 metres high (nicely shown in the timeline on the University of Cincinnati's website).

Which of these remains if any are those of the Homeric city of Troy, is still debated.

Schliemann nominated Troy I or II, but nowadays the Late Hittite Troy VII showing traces of fire and possibly warfare is seen as the most likely source of inspiration for the Trojan myth. Its remains are dated between the 13th and 10th century BC, where as ancient Greek historians place the Trojan War somewhere in the 12th to 14th century BC.

That Troy VI and VII are far larger than originally thought not a mere hillfort, but strongholds surrounded by a settlement with its own defensive structures makes it more likely Hisarlik is indeed the site of the legendary Troy, or Ilion, the siege of which was described by Homer in the Iliad.

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News

Journey of Trojan hero Aeneas to be re enacted

Archaeological work that has been in progress for a decade in the ancient city of Antandros located in modern day Bal1 kesir province's Alt1 noluk district is nearly complete, and a host of educational projects to showcase the site's findings is in the works.

Work at Antandros, led by Ege University archaeology professor Dr. Gürcan Polat, is expected to be completed any day now -- and a project has already been set under way to document the journey of Roman Empire founder and Trojan hero Aeneas from Antandros to Rome's Latium region. The 29-person team of archaeologists working at the site have uncovered a Roman villa, necropolis and residential areas. The project will culminate with a documentary to showcase the team's findings and educate the public, which they hope will be funded by the European Union.

Polat explained that they wanted to conduct a re-enactment of Aeneas' historic journey to create the documentary. "A boat will be built to historic specifications, the Tempest, which will depart from Alt1 noluk and follow the course used around 700 B.C., using only an oar and sails. We want to repeat that historic journey with the Tempest, from the Aegean islands and the shores of Greece through to Italy's city of Castro," he said.

He also noted that the journey would be documented on video: "This isn't just a joyride -- at every location visited, the story will be reenacted and documented. I believe that in this way an important documentary source will be created and I hope that this will contribute to the promotion abroad of both Antandros and Turkey."

According to mythological sources, Aeneas was the national hero of the Romans and the father of Emperor Augustus. According to legend, after the fall of Troy, Aeneas led the Trojans to another city in search of a new home, first gathering with survivors at Antandros (Alt1 noluk) and setting sail on the open sea from there. They are said to have been blown off course, landing in Kartaca where they were hosted by its Queen Dido until setting sail again, eventually landing in Italy, where they would join forces with the Sabines and go on to found Rome.

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News

Maronia Cave, home of the mythological Cyclops Polyphemus

According to Greek mythology Odysseus, during his 10 year journey home from the 10 year Trojan War, arrived in the Kingdom of the Kikonians, the land of the Thracian people who lived between present-day Lake Vistonida and the estuary of the Evros River, where he tied up his ship.

The hero took 12 men and set out to find supplies. Along the way they found a large cave, which turns out to be the home of the fierce Cyclops Polyphemus, the one-eyed (Cyclops) son of Poseidon and Thoosa, who traps them in the cave and devours two of the men for his meal. The next day when Polyphemus returns to the cave with his flock of sheep, Odysseus inebriates him with a strong wine given to him by King Maron. When Polyphemus passes out, Odysseus and his men drive a stake into the Cyclops' eye, blinding him, and escape the cave by tying themselves to the undersides of the sheep.

Polyphemus' cave, also known as Maronia cave, is situated 25 kilometers east of Komotini, near the historical settlement of Maronia, in a limestone hill with steep, and at times sheer, corridors.

Although it is unknown when the cave was discovered, systematic exploration since 1969 by members of the Hellenic Speleological Society indicates that it has always been occupied, due to prehistoric finds of human presence, corresponding finds dating back to the Neolithic period and the Byzantine era that have been excavated in the cave.

The local villagers knew of the cave's existence long before it was first visited by prominent archaeologist George Bakalakis in 1938, following indications in a passage in Apollonius' "Argonautica".

The Maronia Cave is considered an important monument both with respect to its beauty and its archaeological interest. Its vast chambers are adorned with breathtaking stalactites and stalagmites of varying shapes and colors that resemble cypress trees and leafy branches, leading the first explorers to give such names to the chambers as the Stone Forest, the Red Room, the Chamber of the Bats, the Harp Chamber and the Chamber of the Idols.

In modern times, the cave's entrance was used as a shelter for animal herds.

Apart from the colorful stalactites and stalagmites, the cave is also home to and breeding ground of two rare species of bats found nowhere else in the world.

Maronia Cave is also the only place in the world where one can find the unique populations of the isopod Alpioniscus thracicus, the coleoptera Maroniella beroni and the non-marine mollusk Balcanodiscus cerberus. Also, 30 different species of invertebrae have been found, of which 25 have permanent populations and five are new to science, while of particular importance are 8 exclusive cave-dwelling species (6 species of troglobites and 2 species of stygobites) and at least 10 species native to the cave.

According to scientists, the cave was formed 8-10 million years ago, when the region emerged from the sea and erosion from rainwater began. the movement of the subterranean waters created caverns that were colonized by non-marine organisms.

The cave was explored by the Petrocheilos couple in the early 1960s, when the first systematic documentation of its interior commenced. A more coordinated effort began in 2000, when the Eastern Macedonia-Thrace Periphery, in collaboration with the Municipality of Maronia, assigned the task of conducting biological, geological and related research and studies to a team of professors from Thessaloniki's Aristotle University (AUTH). The researchers' results were submitted to the Periphery, which then began drafting a program to commence visits to the cave, in cooperation with experts from the Vienna Museum of Natural History and the Alistratis Cave in Serres and the Mara Cave in Drama.

The local Rodopi prefectural council recently approved a contract to assign a study for exploitation of the cave, while the plan is, in collaboration with the Speleology and Palaeontology Ephorate, to set out a 300-meter long trail along which visitors can view the exquisite stalactites and stalagmites.

Further, using state of the art laser technology, a virtual reality application will be developed that will enable visitors to "visit" and view the inaccessible sections of the cave. A similar technology will be used to videotape the rare bats, with the footage then being shown to visitors in a projection room, thus causing almost zero disturbance to the cave's dwellers.

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News

Greek archeologist discovers palace of Odysseus in Ithaca

A Greek archeologist has claimed to have unearthed the palace of the legendary Odysseus on the island of Ithaca in the Ionian Sea.

Thanasis Papadopulos, who has been carrying out excavations on the Greek hero's home island for 16 years, said he had discovered the remains of a three-storey palace and a well, which date back to the 13th century BC, which is when the Trojan war, described in Homer's Iliad, is believed to have taken place.

Similar wells have been unearthed in Mycenae, 90 kilometers southwest of Athens, and in Tiryns on the Peloponnese Peninsula, the two centers of the Mycenaean civilization, which flourished between 1600 BC and 1100 BC.

The remains matched the description of Odysseus's palace in Homer's Odyssey, reputedly written around the 8th century BC, Papadopulos said.

Ithaca Mayor Spiros Arsenis said Papadopulos's excavation is easily one of the most important discoveries in modern archeology.

In the late 19th century, German Archeologist Heinrich Schliemann discovered what were believed to be the remains of Troy a few kilometers from the Strait of Dardanelles, in present-day Turkey.

The Iliad describes the final year of the Trojan War, focusing on the exploits of the Greek hero Achilles. Its sequel, the Odyssey, details the adventures of Odysseus as he returns to his home on Ithaca after the fall of Troy.

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News

More on Greeks discover Odysseus palace in Ithaca, proving Homers hero was real

An 8th BC century palace which Greek archaeologists claim was the home of Odysseus has been discovered in Ithaca, fuelling theories that the hero of Homer's epic poem was real.

Odysseus known to the ancient Romans as Ulysses famously took 10 years to return home to Ithaca after the fall of Troy.

On his journey, he was twice shipwrecked and encountered a cyclops, the spirit of his mother and tempting Sirens before returning to Ithaca, where he found his wife, Penelope, under pressure to remarry from a host of suitors who had invaded the royal palace.

With the help of his father, Laertes, and his son, Telemachus, he slaughtered his rivals and re-established his rule.

But despite the fantastical details in the Greek epic, a team of archaeologists has claimed the tale is anchored in truth - and that they have discovered his home on the island of Ithaca, in the Ionian sea off the north-west coast of Greece.

Nearly 3,000 years after Odysseus returned from his journey, the team from the University of Ioannina said they found the remains of an extensive three-storey building, with steps carved out of rock and fragments of pottery. The complex also features and a well from the 8th century BC, roughly the period in which Odysseus is believed to have been king of Ithaca.

The location "fits like a glove" with Homer's description of the view from the fabled palace, the archaeologists claim.

The layout of the complex, where Professor Thanassis Papadopoulos and his team have been digging for 16 years, is very similar to palaces discovered at Mycenae, Pylos and other ancient sites.

The claim will be greeted with scepticism by the many scholars who believe that Odysseus, along with other key characters from the Homer's epic such as Hector and Achilles, were purely fictional.

"Whether this find has a connection with Ulysses or not is interesting up to a certain point, but more important is the discovery of the royal palace," said Adriano La Regina, an Italian archaeologist.

Further complicating the identification of the site is the doubt over whether the ancient kingdom of Ithaca was located on its modern day namesake, Ithaki.

A British researcher, Robert Bittlestone, has said Homer's descriptions bear little resemblance to the island and that ancient Ithaca was in fact located on the Paliki peninsula, on the island of Cephalonia.

He believes that Paliki was once an island, separated from the rest of Cephalonia by a marine channel that has since been filled in by rock falls triggered by earthquakes.

Enlisting the help of geologists and ancient historians, he documented the controversial theory in a 2005 book, Odysseus Unbound The Search for Homer's Ithaca.

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News

2000 year old pills found in Greek shipwreck

In 130 BC, a ship fashioned from the wood of walnut trees and bulging with medicines and Syrian glassware sank off the coast of Tuscany, Italy.

Archaeologists found its precious load 20 years ago and now, for the first time, archaeobotanists have been able to examine and analyse pills that were prepared by the physicians of ancient Greece.

DNA analyses show that each millennia-old tablet is a mixture of more than 10 different plant extracts, from hibiscus to celery.

"For the first time, we have physical evidence of what we have in writing from the ancient Greek physicians Dioscorides and Galen," says Alain Touwaide of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC.

The box of pills was discovered on the wreck in 1989, with much of the medicine still completely dry, according to Robert Fleischer of the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park, also in Washington DC.

Herbal remedies

Fleischer analysed DNA fragments in two of the pills and compared the sequences to the GenBank genetic database maintained by the US National Institutes of Health. He was able to identify carrot, radish, celery, wild onion, oak, cabbage, alfalfa and yarrow. He also found hibiscus extract, probably imported from east Asia or the lands of present-day India or Ethiopia.

"Most of these plants are known to have been used by the ancients to treat sick people," says Fleischer. Yarrow staunched the flow of blood from wounds, and Pedanius Dioscorides, a physician and pharmacologist in Rome in the first century AD, described the carrot as a panacea for a number of problems. "They say that reptiles do not harm people who have taken it in advance; it also aids conception," he wrote around 60 AD.

The concoctions have also thrown archaeobotanists a few curve balls. Preliminary analyses of the ancient pills suggest they contain sunflower, a plant that is not thought to have existed in the Old World before Europeans discovered the Americas in the 1400s. If the finding is confirmed, botanists may need to revise the traditional history of the plant and its diffusion, says Touwaide but it's impossible for now to be sure that the sunflower in the pills isn't simply from recent contamination.

Quacks no more

Drugs described by Dioscorides and another Greek physician known as Galen of Pergamon have often been dismissed as ineffectual quackery. "Scholars and scientists have often dismissed the literature on such medicines, and expressed doubt about their possible efficacy, which they attributed only to the presence of opium," says Touwaide. He hopes to resolve this debate by exploring whether the plant extracts in the pills are now known to treat illnesses effectively.

He also hopes to discover therian a medicine described by Galen in the second century AD that contains more than 80 different plant extracts and document the exact measurements ancient doctors used to manufacture the pills. "Who knows, these ancient medicines could open new paths for pharmacological research," says Touwaide.

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News

Scientists give a face to ancient Greek girl

Greek scientists and archaeologists have given an ancient Athenian girl from the 5th century BC a face by using her skeleton, found in an ancient grave. 'Myrtis' has been brought back to life through facial reconstruction from her intact skull and teeth.

The 11-year-old Athenian girl died of typhoid fever in 430 BC during a plague, and her bones were found in a mass grave near the ancient Athenian cemetery of Keramikos when the Athens subway was being dug up in 1995. The mass grave was full of 150 men, women and children.

Professor and orthodontist from the University of Athens Manolis Papagrigorakis, with a team of one Swedish and 19 Greek scientists, said Myrtis was chosen because of the good condition of her skull and teeth that gave them a lot to work with.

"We had all of the skull, the jaw, and the teeth, and something very rare - the milk teeth on the skull. These all helped us to be accurate with the final product, and we are very close - 95 percent close to reality with the final product," said Papagrigorakis during a presentation at the National Archaeological Museum.

The scientists used a 3-D technological program called the "Manchester method" - from the University of Manchester - often used on Egyptian mummies, for the reconstruction process.

Papagrigorakis took DNA from the teeth of the other skulls in the grave to prove that they had died of typhoid fever. DNA was not taken from Myrtis herself because the team did not want to damage her intact teeth.

"The first part of the research was an analysis of the ancient DNA in order find out what the Athenians of the period had died of in Athens. This study took place in 2006 and it was found to be typhoid fever," Papagrigorakis explained.

Typhoid fever killed many during the period, including Pericles, the great ancient Athenian statesman who had the vision of building the Acropolis. The Classical period of Greece is its most famous, when art, architecture and philosophy flourished.

Greek archaeologist Efi Baziotopoulou, who excavated the Keramikos site, contributed historical information for the colour of Myrtis hair, eyes, and dress, and gave her her name, said Papagrigorakis.

Myrtis has been placed near funerary steles from the cemetery of the same period in the museum.

The exhibition at the museum has been called "Face to Face with the Past", and Papagrigorakis says they will also attempt the same reconstruction on another man and woman.

Because of her death from typhoid fever, Myrtis has even been made a representative of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, a project to raise awareness over various issues in the world including child health.

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News

Macedonian Archaeologists Discover Ancient Coins near Ohrid

Around 20 coins with the image of the father of Alexander the Great, Philip II of Macedon, and "other ancient Macedonian rulers" were found by archaeologists during excavations along the road between the south western Macedonian towns of Ohrid and Struga, national media reported today.

In addition to the coins, a space with around 1,000 arrows was also discovered, Director of the Cultural Heritage Protection Office Pasko Kuzman told the Alsat-M television station.

The archaeological find was made in the vicinity of the Cyclops Fortress, which according to Kuzman, dates to the 358 BC when Philip II passed through the area with his army. The fortress, he added, was a strategic military position for the ruler's army.

Although Philip II of Macedon's biggest claim to historical claim is perhaps his fathering of Alexander the Great, the ancient Greek personage (382 336 BC) was a great ruler and military strategist in his own right, who largely realised his expansionist vision.

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News

Alexander the Great Killed by Toxic Bacteria?

The Styx River, the legendary portal to the underworld, harbors a deadly bacteria that may have ended Alexander's life.

An extraordinarily toxic bacterium harbored by the "infernal" Styx River might have been the fabled poison rumored to have killed Alexander the Great (356 - 323 B.C.) more than 2,000 years ago, according to a scientific-meets-mythic detective study.

The research, which will be presented next week at the XII International Congress of Toxicology annual meetings in Barcelona, Spain, reviews ancient literary evidence on the Styx poison in light of modern geology and toxicology.

According to the study, calicheamicin, a secondary metabolite of Micromonospora echinospora, is what gave the river its toxic reputation.

The Styx was the portal to the underworld, according to myth. Here the gods swore sacred oaths.

"If they lied, Zeus forced them to drink the water, which struck them down. The 8th-century B.C. Greek poet Hesiod wrote that the gods were unable to move, breathe or speak for one year," co-author Adrienne Mayor, a research scholar at Stanford University's Departments of Classics and History of Science, told Discovery News.

Another account by the Greek geographer Pausanias (110 - 180) reported that the river could ruin crystal, pottery and bronze. "(The) only thing able to resist corrosion is the hoof of a mule or horse," he wrote.

"Indeed, no ancient writer ever casts doubt on the existence of a deadly poison from the Styx River," Mayor, author of the Mithradates biography "The Poison King," said.

The researchers believe this mythic poison must be calicheamicin. "This is an extremely toxic, gram-positive soil bacterium and has only recently come to the attention of modern science. It was discovered in the 1980s in caliche, crusty deposits of calcium carbonate that form on limestone and is common in Greece," author Antoinette Hayes, toxicologist at Pfizer Research, told Discovery News.

Now called Mavroneri, "Black Water," the Styx originates in the high mountains of Achaia, Greece. Its cold waters cascade over a limestone crag to form the second highest waterfall in Greece.

"Unfortunately, the geochemistry of the river has not yet been studied by modern scientists; therefore, there is no scientific data to support the plausible and interesting calicheamicin theory," Walter D' Alessandro, hydro-geochemist at the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Palermo, told Discovery News.

Whether Alexander really died from poisoning, as some of his closest friends believed, is pure speculation, Mayor and Hayes concede.

"We are not claiming that this was the poison that killed Alexander, nor we are arguing for or against a poison plot," Mayor said.

"However, such a sacred poison, used by the gods, would be appropriate for Alexander, who was already being thought of as semi-divine," she added.

Alexander fell ill at one of many all-night drinking parties in Babylon, in modern Iraq, crying out from a "sudden, sword-stabbing agony in the liver." The overlord of an empire stretching from Greece to India, was taken to bed with abdominal pain and a very high fever.

Over the next 12 days, he worsened. Alexander could only move his eyes and hands and was unable to speak. He later fell into a coma.

Alexander was pronounced dead on June 11, 323 B.C. -- just before his 33rd birthday.

Retrodiagnoses for his mysterious death have included poisoning, heavy drinking, septicemia, pancreatitis, malaria, West Nile fever, typhoid, and accidental or deliberate poisoning (hellebore, arsenic, aconite, strychnine).

"Notably, some of Alexander' s symptoms and course of illness seem to match ancient Greek myths associated with the Styx. He even lost his voice, like the gods who fell into a coma-like state after drinking from the river," Mayor said.

The poisoning diagnoses were rejected by many experts because few poisons induce fever. Furthermore, even fewer such poisons were available in Alexander's time.

However, naturally occurring calicheamicin, which is extremely cytotoxic, could still be the culprit.

"Cytotoxins cause cell death and induce high fever, chills, and severe muscle and neurological pain. Therefore, this toxin could have caused the fever and pain that Alexander suffered," Hayes said.

According to Richard Stoneman, the foremost expert on the myths of Alexander, the theory offers a good explanation for the Styx's ancient reputation.

"I personally think that Alexander probably died of natural causes -- either typhoid or an overdose of the hellebore used to treat his illness -- but other views are possible," Stoneman, author of "A Life in Legend: Alexander the Great," told Discovery News.

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News

Experts question claim that Alexander the Greats half brother is buried at Vergina

The tomb was discovered during the excavation of a large mound the Great Tumulus at Vergina in 1977. Along with many treasures including ceremonial military equipment, bronze utensils, silver tableware, and gold wreaths, the tomb contained two sets of skeletal remains.

Those of a man were found in a gold casket in the main chamber and those of a woman in a smaller gold casket in the second chamber. Both individuals had been cremated and evidence of a wooden funerary house containing a pyre was also found near the tomb.

Dr Jonathan Musgrave of the University of Bristol's Centre for Comparative and Clinical Anatomy and colleagues argue that evidence from the remains is not consistent with historical records of the life, death and burial of Arrhidaios, a far less prominent figure in the ancient world than his father Philip II.

The male skull appears to have a healed fracture on the right cheekbone and a marked asymmetry in the wall of the right maxillary sinus. History records that Philip II lost his right eye at the siege of Methone in 355-4 BC an injury which would be consistent with this damage to the skeleton.

The colour and fracture lines of the bones suggest they were cremated 'green' (with flesh still around them) rather than 'dry' (after the flesh had been decomposed by burial). Arrhidaios was murdered in the autumn of 317 BC; his remains, some suggest, were subsequently exhumed and reburied between four and 17 months later. However, the existence of the funeral pyre indicates that the bodies were cremated at Vergina. As Greek beliefs would never have countenanced contact with a decomposing corpse, Arrhidaios would not have been exhumed, moved and then cremated 'green'.

From the historical account of their deaths and committals, it is thought that Arrhidaios was buried along with his wife Eurydice and her mother Kynna. However, the tomb contains remains from only two individuals. The female remains belong to a woman aged between 20 and 30 whereas Eurydice seems to have been no more than 19 years old when she died.

Dr Musgrave said: "The aim of this paper is not to press the claims of Philip II and his wife Cleopatra but to draw attention to the flaws in those for Philip III Arrhidaios and Eurydice. We do not believe that the condition of the bones and the circumstances of their interment are consistent with descriptions of the funeral of Arrhidaios, his wife and his mother-in-law."

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News

Ancient Greek vessel docks for Pompey refit

The most complete ancient Greek ship ever found – which is being painstakingly pieced back together by marine archaeology experts in Portsmouth – is shown here as it would probably have looked when it sailed around the Greek islands at the time of Homer.

Discovered in silt off the coast of Sicily, the vessel is believed to be around 2,500 years old. It arrived in boxes at the Mary Rose Centre in Portsmouth Harbour last week for what is expected to be a 10-year programme of preservation and reconstruction.

Archaeologists believe the craft was heading for Gela, then a Greek colony, when it was caught in a storm and sank with its cargo. Charles Barker, of the Mary Rose Centre, said: "It has an elm keel, an oak frame and pine planking. It is the most complete Greek trading vessel yet found."

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News

More on Vergina Tomb Twister: Skeleton May Be Alexander the Greats Father

A cremated male skeleton in a lavish ancient Greek tomb is not Alexander the Great's half witted half brother, according to a new study.

The research reignites a 33-year-long debate over whether the burned bones found in the tomb belong to Alexander the Great's father, Philip II, a powerful figure whose years of conquest set the stage for his son's exploits, or Alexander the Great's half-brother, Philip III, a figurehead king with a less successful reign.

The researchers argue that a notch in the dead man's eye socket is consistent with a battle wound received by Philip II years before he died, when an arrow pierced his eye and left his face disfigured. They also dispute claims by other scientists that the bones show signs of having been buried, exhumed, burned and re-interred - a morbid chain of events that would fit with what is known about the murder and burial of Alexander the Great's half-brother and successor, Philip III Arrhidaios.

The study is unlikely to settle the debate over whether the body is Philip II's or Philip III's, which has raged since the treasure-filled tomb was excavated in 1977. But identifying the tombs' occupants would complete the last chapter in at least one royal couple's sordid life story.

Murdered monarchs

Philip II was a powerful king with a complicated love life. He married between five and seven women, though the exact number is disputed, causing intrigue over the line of succession. In 336 B.C., Philip II was assassinated at a celebration of his daughter's wedding, perhaps at the behest of a former wife, Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great. Or the assassination could have been spurred by an ugly rape case involving members of the royal family. In either case, Philip II's last wife, Cleopatra (not the famous one), was murdered or forced to commit suicide soon after by order of Olympias.

Alexander the Great succeeded his father as king. After he died, his half-brother Philip III Arrhidaios ascended to the throne. Philip III was a figurehead king who was likely mentally disabled (ancient historians blamed a childhood poisoning attempt by Olympias, who seemed to have a reputation for that sort of thing). His wife (and niece) Eurydice, on the other hand, was "what you would call feisty," said anatomist Jonathan Musgrave of the University of Bristol, who co-authored the current study.

Eurydice was a warrior queen who led an army into battle in 317 B.C. During that fight, she and her husband were captured by Olympias, who put Philip III to death and forced the 18- or 19-year-old Eurydice to commit suicide. Ancient historians reported the couple was buried but then exhumed for a royal funeral four to 17 months later to shore up the legitimacy of the next king.

"You couldn't make this story up," Musgrave said.

Who's in the tomb?

When the mystery tomb was first excavated near Vergina, Greece, archeologists were stunned to find it undisturbed and full of priceless jewelry, weapons and statues. Amid the riches lay the cremated remains of a man and a young woman. The woman's skeleton had been reduced to bone fragments, but the man's was nearly complete.

Based on the evidence at the site, the archeologists announced the male remains belonged to Philip II. That would make the woman in the tomb his last wife, Cleopatra. But other researchers soon challenged that claim, arguing the treasures in the tomb dated a generation later. That would make the male skeleton Philip III and the female skeleton Eurydice.

In the 1980s, Musgrave and his team examined the bones and created a reconstruction of the face of the man whom they'd concluded was Philip II. Among their evidence for the identification was a notch in the skull's right eye socket, which seemed consistent with Philip II's blinding battle wound. They also argued that asymmetry of the skull may have been caused by trauma.

Their analysis did not go unchallenged. A 2000 paper published in the journal Science argued the notch in the eye socket was normal anatomy, and that the skull's other oddities were leftovers from cremation and reconstruction of the skull.

Antonis Bartsiokas, a paleoanthropologist at the Anaximandrian Institute of Human Evolution in Greece argued in the paper that the bones showed little evidence of warping, suggesting they were cremated "dry" instead of "green," or flesh-covered. In other words, the researcher wrote, the flesh had rotted away and the bones dried out before the bodies were cremated. The findings suggested that the bones were Philip III's, who was buried, exhumed, cremated and reburied, they wrote.

Burned bones

Musgrave said the two camps are probably at an impasse when it comes to arguments over the skull's injuries. But, he said, Bartsiokas is wrong about the timing of the cremation. Photos taken during the 1980s examination of the bones show warping in the long bones of the arms and legs, Musgrave and his co-authors contend in the new paper. The skull is also warped, with one large flap of bone peeled away and sticking out at an angle. Compared with dried bones burned at 1,652 degrees Fahrenheit (900 degrees Celsius), the researchers report, the colors and shape of the ancient skull suggest a fully fleshed cremation.

Ancient Greeks would have found the idea of exhuming a putrefying corpse disgusting, Musgrave said, so it's more likely that Eurydice and Philip III would have been cremated just like Cleopatra and Philip II and other royalty - soon after they died. The reburial, then, would have been of their pre-cremated bones.

Even if the bones were burned dry, Musgrave said, studies of modern murder victims suggest that 17 months in the ground isn't enough to dry out a skeleton.

"[Philip III] Arrhidaios' body would still have had putrefying skin and muscle attached to his limb bones, and rotting viscera filling his thoracic, abdominal and pelvic cavities after even 17 months in the ground," Musgrave and his colleagues wrote. "It would not have become a dry and degreased skeleton."

Unsolved mysteries

Bartsiokas said that even if Musgrave and his colleagues are right about the fleshy cremation, it doesn't rule out the skeleton belonging to Philip III Arrhidaios.

"They argue that the skeleton was cremated fleshed, and that the flesh would be preserved even after 17 months in the ground," Bartsiokas wrote in an e-mail to LiveScience. "Then, in their way of thinking, these circumstances could well apply to [Philip III] Arrhidaios."

Musgrave and his colleagues also argue that the placement of the remains and the absence of the body of Eurydice's mother, who was said to have been buried with her, point away from the tomb being the burial place of Philip III. But years of study of the tomb's construction and contents have yielded conflicting interpretations from different researchers, prompting one historian to write in 2007 that "a consensus on the identity of its occupants will probably never be reached."

"It's definitely not the last word," Musgrave said. "Somebody will challenge what we've written."

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News

British Library puts Greek manuscripts online

The British Library in London has posted over a quarter of its Greek manuscripts, equating to more than 280 volumes, online, the latest step toward digitizing important ancient documents.

The manuscripts, freely available online at, are part of what the library calls one of the most important collections outside Greece for the study of more than 2,000 years of Hellenic culture.

The library holds a total of over 1,000 Greek manuscripts, over 3,000 Greek papyri and a comprehensive collection of early Greek printing.

They contain information for scholars working on the literature, history, science, religion, philosophy and art of the Eastern Mediterranean in the Classical and Byzantine periods.

"This is exactly what we have all hoped for from new technology, but so rarely get," said Mary Beard, professor of classics at the University of Cambridge.

"It opens up a precious resource to anyone -- from the specialist to the curious -- anywhere in the world, for free."

Highlights of the digitized manuscripts include the highly illustrated Theodore Psalter produced in Constantinople in 1066 and Babrius's fables, discovered on Mount Athos in 1842, which contains 123 Aesopic fables and was corrected by the great Byzantine scholar Demetrius Triclinius.

The initiative, funded by a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, is the latest by the library to make ancient, fragile and rare documents available to a wider public.

Other digital projects include a 16th century notebook by Leonardo Da Vinci and the 4th century Codex Sinaiticus, containing the earliest surviving copy of the complete New Testament.

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News

Divers plunder Greece's sunken treasure troves

Government move to boost tourism backfires as looters descend on antiquities

For centuries they have lain forgotten and untouched in the murky depths of the Mediterranean. But the sunken glories of Greece are now threatened by modern treasure hunters, who are targeting their riches since the lifting of a ban on coastal scuba-diving.

At risk, say archaeologists, is an unseen part of the country's cultural patrimony, comprising thousands of shipwrecks dating from Classical, Hellenic, Roman, Byzantine and early modern times and their priceless cargoes of coins, ingots, weapons and gold.

"Greek waters are some of the richest in antiquities in the world," said the marine archaeologist Katerina Dellaporta. "Thanks to very stringent controls over underwater exploration shipwrecks have been extremely well preserved."

Until recently divers were allowed access to just 620 miles of the country's 12,000 mile coastline, but in an attempt to boost tourism, the conservative government opened the country's entire coastal waters to underwater exploration in 2003.

Since then, looting has proliferated, say archaeologists.

Treasure hunters, encouraged by scuba-diving websites from America to Australia, are homing in on the "archaeological sea parks" armed with hi-tech scanners, cameras and nets.

One US-based diving company offers on its website an exhaustive list of "underwater treasures" which have been discovered by scuba divers, including sculptures, jewellery, warrior helmets, Phoenician beads, vases, and a variety of personal items reflecting life in the region in ancient times, from oil lamps to medical supplies.

"Man has been sailing the Greek seas for more than 9,000 years," it says. "This means that ships have been sinking for over 9,000 years - ideal for treasure hunters."

It offers a fleet of 400 yachts, some with crews, and "customised" diving packages for everyone from beginners to experienced divers as the "best way to discover Greece".

Marine archaeologists, who have appealed to Greece's highest administrative court to reverse the relaxation of the law, also point to the surge in blogging by divers boasting of their finds.

Last summer, one police raid intercepted two trucks crammed with ancient artefacts discovered in a wreck off the island of Kalymnos.

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But with growing numbers of would-be looters posing as tourists on yachts, Greece appears ill-equipped to tackle the problem.

Unlike Italy, which has units of specially trained divers and helicopters to chase underwater thieves, Greece has an art squad that is under-funded and, with just 20 members, woefully understaffed.

The sheer scale of the problem is also an issue: an estimated 6,000 wrecks are believed to dot the Greek seas, with most of them in the Mediterranean, where entire submerged cities are thought to exist.

"The future of archaeology is in the water - on land most riches have been discovered - but in the sea there are thousands of sunken ships with cargoes that have yet to be found," said Harry Tzalas, a marine archaeologist who has discovered numerous treasures off the coast of Alexandria in Egypt.

"Each time an artefact is removed from the sea its value in terms of information and context is automatically lost, a tragedy for archaeologists."

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News

The first true image of Cleopatra

From Elizabeth Taylor to Sophia Loren, there have been many faces of Cleopatra. But this might be the most realistic of them all.

Egyptologist Sally Ann Ashton believes the compute regenerated 3D image is the best likeness of the legendary beauty famed for her ability to beguile.

Pieced together from images on ancient artefacts, including a ring dating from Cleopatra's reign 2,000 years ago, it is the culmination of more than a year of painstaking research.

The result is a beautiful young woman of mixed ethnicity - very different to the porcelain-skinned Westernised

Dr Ashton, of Cambridge University, said the images, to be broadcast as part of a Five documentary on Cleopatra, reflect the monarch's Greek heritage as well as her Egyptian upbringing.

'She probably wasn't just completely European. You've got to remember that her family had actually lived in Egypt for 300 years by the time she came to power.'

The picture of the queen contrasts with several other less flattering portrayals. For instance, a silver coin which went on show at Newcastle University's Sefton Museum last year showed her as having a shallow forehead, pointed chin, thin lips and hooked nose. Her lover, the Roman general Mark Antony, fared little better.

The reverse side shows him to have bulging eyes and a thick neck. The queen's appearance has long been the subject of debate among academics. While Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra made reference to her youthful looks and 'infinite-variety', many believe she was short and frumpy with bad teeth.

A statue of Cleopatra exhibited at the British Museum in 2001 portrayed her as plain, no more than 5ft tall and rather plump.

Born in Alexandra in 69BC, into a Macedonian Greek dynasty which had ruled Egypt for three centuries, Cleopatra acceded to the throne at 17. Three years later she seduced Julius Caesar, bearing him a son, Caesarion.

After Caesar was assassinated she courted Mark Antony before committing suicide on his death. Legend has it that she put an asp, a venomous serpent, to her breast.

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News

4th century BC Shipwreck may yield secrets of antiquity

The examination of a Mediterranean shipwreck from the 4th century B.C. could shed light on ancient sea routes and trade, researchers say.

The remains of a merchant vessel, full of amphoras that probably had been filled with wine, were discovered in 2006 on the seafloor south of the island of Cyprus. A team has been excavating the site, diving and dredging up important pieces, since then.

The wreck was first discovered in 2006 by fishermen. One of the ship's anchors was also uncovered.

The particularly well-preserved remains, especially the amphoras, which were oval, narrow-necked vases, reveal many clues about the ship's story, the research team says in a new paper.

"We know by having studied a lot of these ceramic containers - we have created catalogs with different shapes - we know where they come from and where they date," said Stella Demesticha, a professor of maritime archaeology at the University of Cyprus, who is leading the shipwreck research team.

The amphoras found at this site, she said, are very typical of those made on the Greek island of Chios in the Aegean Sea.

"We know the red wine from Chios was praised," Demesticha told LiveScience. "It was very good quality, very expensive."

A large collection of olive pits was also discovered at the shipwreck site. The scientists don't know whether the olives were packed as a source of food for sailors or were a commodity to be sold.

The archaeologists aren't sure what caused the vessel to sink, but said the fact that it was found pretty far offshore suggests it was probably downed by a storm or a fire.

"There's a lot to learn from this wreck," Demesticha said. "We know that wine commerce was flourishing in antiquity. But because we haven't excavated many shipwrecks, we don't know many details about how exactly this was happening."

For example, she said, researchers would like to know how cargo was stowed on ships, as well as how trade deals were brokered and how many transactions took place, particularly between people from the Aegean (between Greece and Turkey) and the rest of the Mediterranean, including Cyprus.

"By studying the cargo of the ship, we're going to find more details about contacts between the two areas in that period," Demesticha said.

The findings so far are detailed in a paper in the December 2010 issue of the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News

Archimedes and the 2000-year-old computer

MARCELLUS and his men blockaded Syracuse, in Sicily, for two years. The Roman general expected to conquer the Greek city state easily, but the ingenious siege towers and catapults designed by Archimedes helped to keep his troops at bay.

Then, in 212 BC, the Syracusans neglected their defences during a festival to the goddess Artemis, and the Romans finally breached the city walls. Marcellus wanted Archimedes alive, but it wasn't to be. According to ancient historians, Archimedes was killed in the chaos; by one account a soldier ran him through with a sword as he was in the middle of a mathematical proof.

One of Archimedes's creations was saved, though. The general took back to Rome a mechanical bronze sphere that showed the motions of the sun, moon and planets as seen from Earth.

The sphere stayed in Marcellus's family for generations, until the Roman author Cicero saw it in the first century BC. "The invention of Archimedes deserves special admiration because he had thought out a way to represent accurately by a single device for turning the globe those various and divergent movements with their different rates of speed," he wrote. "The moon was always as many revolutions behind the sun on the bronze contrivance as would agree with the number of days it was behind it in the sky."

Until recently, historians paid scant attention to this story: the description suggests a sophisticated mechanical device, beyond anything the ancient Greeks were thought to have been capable of. Furthermore, Cicero had no technical training, and did not explain how the device worked. He could have made the story up for effect.

Now, however, research on the battered remains of a mysterious ancient device suggests that Cicero was telling the truth. While the Antikythera mechanism is not the same one seen by Cicero - it was not made until a century later - it proves that clockwork mechanisms like the one he described really did exist, and that ancient Greek technology was far more advanced than thought. Freshly deciphered inscriptions on its dials also hint at the origins of this technology.

The device was discovered more than a century ago by sponge divers from the Aegean island of Symi. In 1900, after a gale blew them off course, they took shelter by a barren islet called Antikythera. When the storm abated, they went diving. Instead of sponges, the divers found a large heap of bronze and marble statues. They had happened upon an ancient shipwreck.

The Greek government immediately hired the men to salvage the wreck. It was dangerous work: during the 10-month expedition one of the men died and two were paralysed as a result of the bends. But they brought back incredible treasures: bronze and marble statues, jewellery, glassware and furniture, including an ornate bronze throne.

In all the excitement, nobody noticed a corroded lump of rock dumped in a crate in the courtyard of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. That changed a few months later when it cracked open, revealing traces of gearwheels, precisely marked circular scales and inscriptions in ancient Greek.

The battered artefact became known as the "Antikythera mechanism", and it caused excitement and consternation. Until then, not one gearwheel, pointer or scale had been found from antiquity. Nor have any been found since; the Antikythera mechanism remains unique.

Some scholars thought it was a hoax, others that it had come from a modern ship that sank on the ancient wreck site by chance. The only clues to its purpose were a reference to the signs of the zodiac - used for astronomy as well as astrology - and the word "Pachon", which was a month name used by the ancient Greeks. As the years passed, the mechanism sank into obscurity. With no answers, historians of technology tended to mention it as an afterthought, if at all.

In recent decades, however, a series of researchers have dedicated large parts of their lives to studying the mechanism. From their combined efforts, including X-raying its internal workings, we at last have a fairly complete picture of what the Antikythera mechanism did. It turns out that it was a hand-wound clockwork device used to calculate the motions of the sun, moon and planets as seen from Earth, as well as to predict solar and lunar eclipses.

The complexity of the design, and the fact that it incorporated state-of-the-art astronomical knowledge, suggest that the maker cared a great deal about the accuracy of the mechanism. So where did it come from, and what was it used for?

Long-lost loot
Studies of the Antikythera wreck and the cargo it carried suggest the ship set sail in around 65 BC, heading west from Asia Minor. It was a Roman ship, carrying looted Greek treasures back to Rome. At this time, the fearless young general Pompey was sweeping his way through Asia Minor, so the ship could have belonged to him.

The presence of supply jars from Rhodes suggests the vessel stopped off at the island shortly before sinking. The astronomer Hipparchus, whose theories are embodied in the mechanism's gearwork, worked on Rhodes just a few decades before, leading some scholars to suggest that the Antikythera mechanism was made on the island.

Cicero also visited Rhodes around this time. In fact, he wrote about a second bronze model of the heavens "recently constructed by our friend Posidonius, which at each revolution reproduces the same motions of the sun, the moon and the five planets that take place in the heavens each day and night". Posidonius was a philosopher with a school on Rhodes in the first century BC, just at the time the Antikythera ship sailed.

General Pompey admired the teachings of Posidonius, and several times stopped off to see him. Perhaps Posidonius gave the mechanism to Pompey as a gift.

But there is a twist in the tale. Researchers including Alexander Jones of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World in New York and John Steele of Durham University, UK, are still deciphering the mechanism's inscriptions. They recently discovered that the month names used on the Antikythera mechanism are from a local calendar used only in western Greece (Nature, vol 454, p 614).

One of the main contenders for the origin of the calendar is the powerful city state of Syracuse, founded by Greek settlers, hinting that the mechanism was made by - or for - someone there. This is puzzling because the ship was sailing west towards Sicily on its way to Rome before it sank (see map). It is possible that the mechanism was made on Rhodes for a wealthy owner in Syracuse. However, the inscriptions on the device date it to around 150 to 100 BC, suggesting that it was already a few decades old when the ship sank. It now seems more likely that it was originally made in Syracuse then taken east - to show off to the scholars on Rhodes, perhaps, or simply because its owner moved there. Later, the Romans put it on a ship heading back west.

The most intriguing thing about the latest finding, however, is that Syracuse was Archimedes's home city. He lived a century before the Antikythera mechanism was made, so he could not have created this particular device. But the link to Syracuse, plus Cicero's description of Archimedes's model, hint that he could have been the original inventor of this type of gadget, with the Antikythera mechanism part of a technological tradition that he started.

We know from ancient texts that Archimedes pioneered the use of gearwheels to achieve different force ratios - to lift weights, for example. And one of the few biographical details we know about him is that his father was an astronomer. So it wouldn't be completely unexpected if he had the idea of using his gearwheels to model the motions of the heavens. Tantalisingly, one of his lost treatises was entitled "On sphere-making".

The theory of epicycles was very new when Archimedes lived, if it existed at all, and astronomers had no way to model the elliptical orbits of the moon and sun. So his original design might have been relatively simple, perhaps a schematic model showing the sun, moon and planets rotating around the Earth at various but constant speeds. Later, other craftsmen could have built on this, coming up with more sophisticated gearwork to incorporate the latest astronomical knowledge - including that of Hipparchus - as it became available, with the designs being shipped across the Greek world. Hipparchus is chiefly known for his insistence on what now seems obvious to us: that astronomical theories should accurately match observations. Perhaps he or his work influenced a switch from a schematic spherical model to a mathematical calculator that displayed the precise timing of celestial events on flat dials.

Modelling the heavens with geared devices ran alongside a parallel tradition of modelling living creatures such as people, animals and birds. These did not use gearwheels, but were instead powered by steam, hot air and water. This seems to have started with the engineer Ctesibius in Alexandria in the third century BC, who specialised in water clocks incorporating automated figures. Archimedes worked with Ctesibius in Alexandria before he moved to Syracuse, so perhaps the seeds of both traditions - modelling planets and living creatures - were sown there.

The engineer Hero, working in the first century AD, continued their work. He built many automated figures, as well as inventing a steam engine, a vending machine that dispensed holy water, a wind-operated organ and a geared device for lifting heavy weights.

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Historians have often scoffed at the Greeks for wasting their technology on toys rather than doing anything useful with it. If they had the steam engine, why not use it to do work? If they had clockwork, why not build clocks? Many centuries later, such technology led to the industrial revolution in Europe, ushering in our automated modern world. Why did it not do the same for the Greeks?

The answer has a lot to do with what the Greeks would have regarded as useful. Models of people and animals, like those of the cosmos, affirmed their idea of a divine order. Gadgets like Hero's were also used to demonstrate basic physical laws in pneumatics and hydraulics.

It has been suggested, for example, that Hero built his steam engine, in which steam escaping from nozzles in a metal sphere caused the sphere to spin, to disprove Aristotle's argument that movement could only be generated by pushing on something "unmoved and resisting" - the Prime Mover. Despite Hero's demonstration, Christians later adapted Aristotle's argument as proof that their God exists.

Rather than being toys, devices like the Antikythera mechanism were seen as a route to understanding and demonstrating the nature of the universe - a way to get closer to the true meaning of things. To what better use could technology be put?

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News

Sunken Greek treasures at risk from scuba looters

A corroded mechanism recovered by sponge divers from a sunken wreck near the Greek island of Antikythera in 1902 changed the study of the ancient world forever.

The Antikythera Mechanism, a system of bronze gears from the 2nd century BC, was used to calculate the date of the Olympic Games based on the summer solstice. Its mechanical complexity was unequalled for 1,000 years, until the cathedral clocks of the Middle Ages.

Archaeologists believe hundreds more wrecks beneath the eastern Mediterranean may contain treasures, but a new law opening Greece's coastline to scuba diving has experts worried that priceless artifacts could disappear into the hands of treasure hunters.

"The future of archaeology in this part of the world is in the sea," said marine archaeologist Harry Tzalas. "This law is very dangerous, it opens the way to the looting of antiquities from the seabed which we don't even know exist."

Greece's 1932 antiquities law says all artifacts on land and in the sea belong to the state, but it does not regulate scuba diving, developed in the 1940s by Frenchman Jacques Cousteau.

A new law implemented in 2007 and designed to promote tourism opens most of Greece's 15,000-km (9,400-mile) coastline to scuba divers, except for about 100 known archaeological sites.

Greece's archaeologists' union and two ecological societies have appealed for the law to be rescinded. Meanwhile, some tour companies are luring tourists with the promise of ancient artifacts. "Scuba diving in Greece is permitted everywhere ... Ideal for today's treasure hunter," says one website (

Katerina Dellaporta, director of antiquities at the Culture Ministry, says metal detectors and bathyspheres allow treasure hunters to find artifacts with ease in the Adriatic and Aegean.


Most of the world-famous bronzes in Greece's National Archaeological Museum, such as the 5th-century BC statue of Poseidon hurling his trident found off Cape Artemision, were salvaged from the sea. Statues on land tended to be destroyed or melted down for coins or weapons.

Some were found in shallow-water shipwrecks like the one off Antikythera, believed to be a 1st century BC Roman ship carrying a haul of ancient Greek art back to Italy. Other precious statues were dredged from the deep ocean in fishermen's nets.

Greece offers handsome rewards to prevent relics falling into private hands. It paid 440,000 euros ($553,300) to a fisherman for a female torso off the island of Kalymnos in 2005.

"The sea is a vast museum of shipwrecks ... that is rewriting history as we know it," said Shelley Wachsmann, professor of marine archaeology at Texas A&M university, who opposes the law.

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"The risk is that Greece will become like Italy, where there is nothing left above 70 meters (underwater)," he said by telephone from the United States.

Divers can ruin an excavation by taking mundane items such as amphorae that shed light on everyday life, archaeologists say. In deeper waters, the main threat to antiquities is trawler fishing, which disturbs sites and damages artifacts.

Archaeologists know of many treasures still lost at sea. About 5,000 pieces from the collection of Luigi Palma di Cesnola -- who helped found New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art -- disappeared in a Mediterranean shipwreck in the 1870s.

For Tzalas, the "holy grail" is the lost city of Helike, which disappeared under the sea off western Greece one night during an earthquake in 373 BC. A wreck from Crete's Minoan civilization would also provide a first glimpse of the Bronze Age culture's maritime activities.

Many wrecks already discovered, including sites off the Aegean island of Kalymnos, have not been excavated because of lack of funds, leaving them prey to looters.

"It's not fair to tell the Greeks they have to use up their money protecting this, when it's patrimony of the entire world," said Wachsmann. "This is an international responsibility."

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News

Antikythera Mechanism: The technology behind the worlds oldest computer

The Antikythera mechanism, one of the world's oldest known geared devices, is an ancient mechanical calculator, also described as the first known mechanical computer, designed to calculate astronomical positions, that has puzzled and intrigued science and technology historians since its it was recovered from an 80 BC wreck off the island of Antikythera in 1901.

Dated to about 150-100 BC, the intricacy of the way in which the Mechanism works was so startling to scientists that initially they often the device's dating, doubting it could be as old as it really was. Technological artifacts of similar complexity did not reappear before the 14th century, when mechanical astronomical clocks appeared in Europe.

A lecture on the Mechanism was recently delivered by Professor Robert Hannah of the Classical Studies Department at New Zealand's Otago University to a packed audience at Sydney University in Australia, who tried to analyse the workings of the Mechanism and, more importantly, to explain how the ancient Greeks were able to create such a complex, precise and sophisticated instrument more than 2,000 years ago, stressing that scientists are still studying and trying to decipher the device.

Sometime before Easter 1900, Elias Stadiatis, a Greek sponge diver, discovered the wreck of an ancient cargo ship off Antikythera Island at a depth of 42 m (138 ft). Sponge divers retrieved several statues and other artifacts from the wreck. The mechanism itself was discovered on May 17, 1901, when archaeologist Valerios Stais noticed that a piece of rock recovered from the site had a gear wheel embedded in it. Examination revealed that the "rock" was in fact a heavily encrusted and corroded mechanism that had survived the shipwreck in three main parts and dozens of smaller fragments. The device itself was surprisingly thin, about 33 cm (13 in) high, 17 cm (6.7 in) wide, and 9 cm (3.5 in) thick, made of bronze and originally mounted in a wooden frame. It was inscribed with a text of over 2,000 characters, many of which have only just recently been deciphered.

The mechanism is the oldest known complex scientific calculator, and is sometimes called the first known analog computer, although its flawless construction suggests that it may have had a number of predecessors during the Hellenistic Period that have not yet been discovered.

It appears to be constructed upon theories of astronomy and mathematics developed by Greek astronomers, and one hypothesis is that the device was constructed at an academy founded by the ancient Stoic philosopher Posidonius on the island of Rhodes, which was known at the time as a center of astronomy and mechanical engineering, and that perhaps the astronomer Hipparchus was the engineer who designed it, since it contains a lunar mechanism that uses Hipparchus' theory for the motion of the Moon. However, newer findings of The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project published in 2008 suggest that the concept of the mechanism originated in the colonies of Corinth, which might imply a connection with Archimedes.

According to the Antikythera Mechanism Project researchers, the device is remarkable for the level of miniaturization and for the complexity of its parts, which is comparable to that of 18th century clocks. It has over 30 gears, although scientists have suggested as many as 72 gears, with teeth formed through equilateral triangles. When a date was entered via a crank (now lost), the mechanism calculated the position of the Sun, Moon, or other astronomical information such as the location of other planets. Since the purpose was to position astronomical bodies with respect to the celestial sphere, with reference to the observer's position on the surface of the earth, the device was based on the geocentric model.

The mechanism has three main dials, one on the front, and two on the back. The front dial has two concentric scales. The outer ring is marked off with the days of the 365-day Egyptian calendar, or the Sothic year, based on the Sothic cycle. Inside this, there is a second dial marked with the Greek signs of the Zodiac and divided into degrees. The calendar dial can be moved to compensate for the effect of the extra quarter day in the solar year (there are 365.2422 days per year) by turning the scale backwards one day every four years. Worthy of note is that the Julian calendar, the first calendar of the region to contain leap years, was not introduced until about 46 BC, up to a century after the device was said to have been built.

The front dial probably carried at least three hands, one showing the date, and two others showing the positions of the Sun and the Moon. The Moon indicator is adjusted to show the first anomaly of the Moon's orbit. It is reasonable to suppose the Sun indicator had a similar adjustment, but any gearing for this mechanism (if it existed) has been lost. The front dial also includes a second mechanism with a spherical model of the Moon that displays the lunar phase.

There is reference in the inscriptions for the planets Mars and Venus, and it would have certainly been within the capabilities of the maker of this mechanism to include gearing to show their positions. There is some speculation that the mechanism may have had indicators for all the five planets known to the Greeks. None of the gearing for such planetary mechanisms survives, except for one gear otherwise unaccounted for.

Finally, the front dial includes a parapegma, a precursor to the modern day Almanac, which was used to mark the rising and setting of specific stars. Each star is thought to be identified by Greek characters which cross reference details inscribed on the mechanism.

The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project, with experts from Britain, Greece and the United States, detected in July 2008 the word "Olympia" on a bronze dial thought to display the 76 year Callipic cycle, as well as the names of other games in ancient Greece, and probably used to track dates of the ancient Olympic Games.

The four sectors of the dial are inscribed with a year number and two Panhellenic Games: the 'crown' games of Isthmia (Isthmian Games), Olympia (Olympic Games), Nemea (Nemean Games) and Pythia (Pythian Games); and two lesser games: Naa (held at Dodona, northwestern Greece, today's Dodoni) and a second game which has not yet been deciphered.

The complexity of the gears found within the Antikythera Mechanism baffled scientists, since this type of technology was not though to have been in existence until around 1575, while many feel that the Mechanism helps to explain how such wonderful phenomena as the ancient pyramids, the Greek Colisseum, and the Parthenon were built with such exquisite detail.

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News

Decoding An Ancient Computer: New Astonishing Truths

The mysterious mechanism was discovered in 1900 in the wreck of a Roman vessel off the Greek island of Antikythera

The ship held other treasures that were taken over by the Greek government, but one of the items retrieved by the divers was an odd-looking corroded lump of some kind. When the lump fell apart some time later, a damaged machine of unknown purpose was revealed. It bore large gears, small cogs and a few words engraved in Greek.

At first it was believed to be some kind of astronomical time-keeping device. One researcher in particular, Derek J. de Solla Price, established initial tooth counts and believed that the device followed what is known as the Metonic cycle, which in the ancient world was used to predict eclipses. The full function of this odd device remained a mystery until recently. Advances in photography and x-rays have revealed the true complexity of this astonishing creation that, anachronistically speaking, is akin to finding the remnants of a supersonic jet plane in the ruins of ancient Egypt.

Photography unlocked many of the mysteries of this device by exposing its surfaces to varying lighting patterns, which in turn created different levels of contrast. Researchers were then able to read more of the inscribed text than was previously possible. Details of the interactions of the gears were quite complex and clearly revealed through the marvels of x-ray imaging and the creation of 3-D computer models of the mechanism. The Greek National Archaeological Museum also found some boxes filled with 82 mechanism fragments.

The Antikythera mechanism was an ingenious tool comprised of an elaborate system of gears that could be used to predict the exact time of an eclipse and even made provisions for leap years. No ordinary calendar, it was also able to predict the positions of the sun and the moon and the astronomical positions of the planets as they were known to the ancient world. These included: Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. In addition, a small dial within the larger Metonic dial held the dates of important social events such as The Olympics. All of the different functions could be accomplished by turning a crank on its side.

The research concerning this astonishing device was published in Nature and despite all it reveals about ancient knowledge and capabilities, who built it remains a mystery. Although Cicero wrote of something like this and attributed it to the ancient inventor, Archimedes, this machine was built after Archimedes' death. The engraved words link it to Corinth or its colonies. It is possible that since Sicily was a colony and the Sicilian city of Syracuse was Archimedes headquarters, that the mechanism may have been based on one of his designs and carried out by his disciples.

Still, one question lingers. If this device was industrialized, surely more than one would have been created. Why have no others been found?

It can only make one wonder about how many more incredible creations have been lost over the last 2,000 years and what we could have learned from them.

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News

Ancient astronomy: Mechanical inspiration

The ancient Greeks' vision of a geometrical Universe seemed to come out of nowhere. Could their ideas have come from the internal gearing of an ancient mechanism?

Two thousand years ago, a Greek mechanic set out to build a machine that would model the workings of the known Universe. The result was a complex clockwork mechanism that displayed the motions of the Sun, Moon and planets on precisely marked dials. By turning a handle, the creator could watch his tiny celestial bodies trace their undulating paths through the sky.

The mechanic's name is now lost. But his machine, dubbed the Antikythera mechanism, is by far the most technologically sophisticated artefact that survives from antiquity. Since a reconstruction of the device hit the headlines in 2006, it has revolutionized ideas about the technology of the ancient world, and has captured the public imagination as the apparent pinnacle of Greek scientific achievement.

Now, however, scientists delving into the astronomical theories encoded in this quintessentially Greek device have concluded that they are not Greek at all, but Babylonian - an empire predating this era by centuries. This finding is forcing historians to rethink a crucial period in the development of astronomy. It may well be that geared devices such as the Antikythera mechanism did not model the Greeks' geometric view of the cosmos after all. They inspired it.

The remains of the Antikythera mechanism were salvaged from a shipwreck in 1901 (see 'Celestial mirror from the deep') and are now held in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. A series of ever more sophisticated radiographic studies of the gearwheels hidden inside the corroded mass culminated in proposed reconstructions of the device from a team led by astronomer Mike Edmunds of the University of Cardiff, UK, in 2006 (ref. 1), and from London-based mechanic and curator Michael Wright in 2007 (ref. 2).

The device, which dates from the second or early first century BC, was enclosed in a wooden box roughly 30 centimetres high by 20 centimetres wide, contained more than 30 bronze gearwheels and was covered with Greek inscriptions. On the front was a large circular dial with two concentric scales. One, inscribed with names of the months, was divided into the 365 days of the year; the other, divided into 360 degrees, was marked with the 12 signs of the zodiac.

Pointers moving around this dial were thought to show the date as well as the corresponding position of the Sun, Moon and probably the five planets known at the time. A revolving ball, painted half black and half silver, displayed the phase of the Moon, and letters marked on the zodiac scale acted as a kind of index, linking to inscriptions that described the appearances and disappearances of major stars at different times of the year.

On the back of the device were two spiral dials, one above the other. The top one showed a repeating 235-month calendar, popular because after 235 months or 19 years, the distribution of new Moons in the solar year is the same. The bottom spiral represented a 223-month repeating eclipse cycle. Symbols inscribed on its month divisions told the user when to expect eclipses, and gave information about the type and timing of each event.

The researchers who did the 2006 reconstruction noted that the 235- and 223-month cycles were originally derived by the Babylonians. That was to be expected: the empire's priest-astronomers, who saw astronomical events as powerful omens, had identified many such cycles over the centuries, and Greek astronomers of this period often made use of their results.

But this fact did not shake the researchers' central conclusion that the device embodied the Greeks' own geometrical models of the cosmos. These models, based on spheres or circles that described the motion of the planets in three-dimensional space, had originally been qualitative and philosophically pleasing rather than accurate. But by the time of the Antikythera mechanism's construction, scholars such as Hipparchus, who worked in Rhodes in the second century BC, had been inspired by the Babylonians' precision to put numbers into the Greek models, and to insist that they fit with actual observations. Modern experts were confident that the device's zodiac display - its centrepiece - reflected such state-of-the-art geometrical theories.

Supporting this idea were X-ray scans revealing that a mechanism hidden within the device's clockwork directly modelled the varying motion of the Moon. Because the Moon's orbit around Earth is elliptical rather than circular, it seems to travel faster at some points in its orbit than others. Greek philosophers believed that all heavenly orbits were perfect circles, so Hipparchus explained this variation in the Moon's motion by superimposing one circular orbit onto another that had a different centre - the 'eccentric' theory.

Missing gears

The gearwork in the Antikythera mechanism seems to put this into practice perfectly, using a pin-and-slot mechanism that enabled one gearwheel to drive another around a slightly displaced axis. In their 2006 Nature paper1, Edmunds and his colleagues described it as "a mechanical realization" of Hipparchus' lunar theory. The team and other scholars assumed that the maker of the Antikythera mechanism must have used similar techniques to model the path of the Sun and probably the planets, too. The relevant gearing is missing, but the assumption is plausible: Greek astronomers accounted for the movement of planets - which not only seem to speed up and slow down in the sky, but sometimes change direction - using a theory that was mathematically equivalent to the eccentric model. The basic idea, which would be refined and made famous by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the second century AD, was that each planet travelled in a small circle called an epicycle, whose centre was simultaneously moving in a larger loop around Earth.

To demonstrate how the Antikythera mechanism could have operated, Wright built a working model of it. His device incorporates small gear wheels riding on larger ones to model the epicycles of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, as well as the varying speed of the Sun. The Antikythera mechanism thus seemed to be a stunning demonstration of how the ancient Greeks had translated their most famous astronomical theory into physical wheels of bronze.

But now a new team has noticed a detail that could turn this view of the mechanism on its head. Historian of astronomy James Evans at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, and his colleagues knew that the 360 divisions on the zodiac scale should be spaced slightly farther apart than the 365 divisions on the calendar scale that encircled it. But when they used X-ray scans provided by Edmunds' team to precisely measure the division widths on the surviving part of the dial, which encompasses 88 degrees, they found that the zodiac marks are actually closer together3. The marks on the vanished parts of the scale must have compensated somehow with a wider spacing.

The researchers believe that this was done on purpose to represent the Sun's uneven progress through the sky. Instead of the device using epicyclic gearing to drive a pointer with varying speed as previously thought, Evans believes it is "extremely likely" that its maker used a pointer moving with constant speed around a circle split into two sections of equal overall size that were divided differently: a 'fast zone' in which the degree markings were closer together than normal, and a 'slow zone' in which they were farther apart. This scheme is identical to a theory of the Sun's movement used by the Babylonians, known as System A.

If correct, this interpretation suggests that the astronomy encoded in the mechanism's gearwork does not represent state-of-the-art Greek theories after all. It is Babylonian through and through.

This is a tough assertion to prove. The uneven division of the zodiac scale could have been just the result of sloppy work by the machine's creator, and its similarity to the Babylonian scheme just a coincidence. Wright, who was the first to suggest that epicyclic gearing modelled the motions of the Sun and planets, says he is "very uncomfortable" with the idea that the device modelled the Moon's motion mechanically, yet used an abstract numerical scheme to do the same for the Sun.

But astronomy historian Alexander Jones of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World in New York is taking the hypothesis seriously. He argues that Greek astronomers were more interested in convenience than consistency. Such an intimate mix of geometric and arithmetic approaches fits the spirit of the period, he says. "They were playing with different toolboxes at the same time."

Key events

Evans's hypothesis forces a rethink of other parts of the mechanism, too. Previously, scholars assumed that the positions of the Sun, Moon and planets were all displayed around the same zodiac scale. But if the zodiac scale had been tweaked to accommodate the varying speed of the Sun, it would no longer be accurate for showing the positions of the other bodies.

Evans thinks that the five planets were instead displayed on individual smaller dials (see 'Cross-cultural computer'). He adds that these dials didn't necessarily have to show the planets' positions in the sky. He thinks the machine's maker would have been more interested in showing the timing of key events in each planet's cycle, such as changes of direction, or first and last appearance in the night sky. If so, the pointers on these dials could have been driven at constant speed by simple gear trains representing period relations derived by the Babylonians - no epicycles required.

Jones is more cautious about this suggestion, although he says it "makes sense in terms of how planetary motion was talked about at the time". Both he and Evans are hoping that more clues will come from inscriptions on the front cover of the mechanism. The surviving lettering is hidden inside the mechanism's battered and corroded remains, but it is being painstakingly reconstructed and translated from X-ray scans by Agamemnon Tselikas, director of the Centre for History and Palaeography in Athens, and Yanis Bitsakis, a physicist at the University of Athens. So far the two researchers have deciphered mentions of Mars, Mercury and Venus, along with several references to the 'stationary points' at which planets seem to change direction.

Evans argues that even the clearly epicyclic gearing of the Moon display may model Babylonian arithmetic, not Greek geometry. The amplitude of the variation encoded by the pin-and-slot mechanism is larger than that used by Hipparchus in his eccentric model, he points out, and is closer to the amplitude used in the lunar algorithms of the Babylonians. "Perhaps a mechanic tried to represent the variations in the Moon's speed according to the Babylonian theory using gears," he says - and hit upon an epicyclic arrangement.

In other words, epicycles were not a philosophical innovation but a mechanical one. Once Greek astronomers realized how well epicyclic gearing in devices such as the Antikythera mechanism replicated the cyclic variations of celestial bodies, they could have incorporated the concept into their own geometrical models of the cosmos.

"It is a new possibility," says Jones. "I am quite attracted to it." There is little evidence for who came up with the idea of epicycles, although it is often ascribed to third-century-BC Greek geometer Apollonius of Perga. Intriguingly, gears and epicycles seem to have arisen at about the same time, with gears perhaps a little earlier. Also in the third century BC, Archimedes used simple gears to change the size of an applied force. Some two centuries later, the Roman politician and author Cicero wrote that Archimedes built a bronze astronomical device that might have been similar to the Antikythera mechanism.

"Maybe we need to rethink the connection between mechanics and astronomy," says Evans. "People think of it as purely one way, but maybe there was more of an interplay." In other words, when that Greek mechanic shaped the Antikythera mechanism's complex gear trains, he created more than a model made of bronze. He helped to forge a view of the Universe that would hold sway for nearly 2,000 years.

Jo Marchant is a London-based writer and author of Decoding the Heavens, a book about the Antikythera mechanism.


Freeth, T. et al. Nature 444, 587-591 (2006).

Wright, M. T. Interdiscipl. Sci. Rev. 32, 27-43 (2007).

Evans, J. , Carman, C. C. & Thorndike, A. S. J. Hist. Astron. 41, 1-39 (2010).

Freeth, T. , Jones, A. , Steele, J. M. & Bitsakis Y . Nature 454, 614-617 (2008).

Højte, J. M. (ed.) Mithridates VI and the Pontic Kingdom 313-320 (Aarhus Univ. Press, 2009).

Originally Posted @ Archaeology News