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Replicating the Famous Antikythera Mechanism

You'll soon be able to construct your own replica Antikythera mechanism, thanks to an open source project by the S&T Geotronics team.

In 1900 CE, sponge divers discovered a shipwreck near the Greek island of Antikythera. In 1901, a salvage team recovered several artifacts from the wreckage, which turned out to be a Greek ship that sank around 70-60 BCE. In 1902, archaeologist Valerios Stais identified one particular artifact that would come to be known as the Antikythera mechanism. It was damaged, heavily corroded, and had pieces missing, but scientists were eventually able to determine that it was some kind of orrery (a mechanical model of the solar system). Now the S&T Geotronics team is setting out to create an open-source replica of the famous Antikythera mechanism.

The Antikythera mechanism is special for many reasons. It predates astronomical clocks of similar complexity by at least 1,400 years and its origins are somewhat mysterious. Many experts consider it to be the earliest known example of an analog computer. But it was so heavily damaged when found that scientists and archaeologists struggled for decades to understand its purpose and operation. Non-destructive scanning techniques eventually helped them to image its internal construction and create an accurate model.

Many working replicas of varying accuracy have been constructed over the years, but there isn't any easy way for curious makers to build their own. That's where the S&T Geotronics team comes in. They've been working on designing a functional replica based on the research and scans performed by scientists over the years. They've used that information to design a model that anyone can build with common hobbyist tools. When complete, this design will let anyone construct their own Antikythera mechanism.

Most of the parts for this replica were designed to be 3D-printed or laser-cut. The team did use some custom-turned brass axles that require a lathe, but those shouldn't be too hard to source when this design becomes available. The Antikythera mechanism is complex, but assembly isn't difficult — it just takes a methodical approach.

The project isn't ready for prime time yet and the S&T Geotronics team is still working on finalizing the design. They're going to be launching a Kickstarter campaign soon to raise some funds in order to complete that. Backers will have the option to receive a hand-crafted replica built by the team. But this is an open-source project, so the files will be made available to everyone once the work is complete.

Cameron Coward

Jul 13, 2023

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