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Understanding Historical Context and Designing Creative Elements for Open Antikythera

I dove into this project headfirst by helping with some of the creative & design elements of both the device itself and the campaign, without a full grasp of the device's abilities or unique purpose. I realized I'm going to have to develop an understanding of the mechanism in its historical context, in order to best contribute to the success of Open Antikythera. Of course, I’ve always been fascinated by it, but the main thing I knew was that it was a freak discovery for archeologists as it was out of place by thousands of years. I’m also in love with its aesthetic. Something about gears and astrology symbols gives me New Age + Tool vibes.


When I saw the motion of the needles go around, go backward, and then continue their original motion, I was amazed that a device developed in the first few centuries BC was actually showing the retrograde motion of the planets. I needed to brush up on my understanding of the geocentric model, the paradigm which the creators of this device were under.

According to Matt Williams at “Earth was the heaviest element, hence why it moved towards the center; whereas water, fire, and air formed layers around it. Beyond these layers, the solid spheres of aether in which the celestial bodies were embedded lay. Another important aspect of his model was the inclusion of the “Prime Mover”, a sort of deistic concept whereby all motion in the Universe is initiated by a being or force that is themselves “unmoved”.

The geocentric universe as imagined by Ptolomy
Ptolomaic System

Support for this cosmological principle was based on a number of accepted theories. For one, if the Earth were to move, scholars believed that there would be an observable change in the positions of the fixed stars and constellations (aka. stellar parallax). This could be explained by reasoning that they were either motionless or much further away than believed. Naturally, they chose to believe the former, as it was the simpler explanation.”

I assume the Antikythera Mechanism is based on Ptolemy’s model (There’s a theory that he actually created it himself). This is because it tracks the retrograde motion of the planets, which Ptolemy used epicycles to explain in his model, which would be the dominant model of the universe for the next 1500 years. Though it was complicated (he also added the “equant" to account for differences in the planets’ retrograde loops), he had a model that could be used to make accurate predictions. I’m not sure if he also relied on “Aether” but it certainly would’ve been a salient concept in his time.

Derek de Solla Price is certainly the modern scholar who’s made the most progress in the analysis and explanation of the Antikythera mechanism. Writing in 1959, he called it “the venerable progenitor of all our present plethora of scientific hardware. It is a bit frightening, to know that just before the fall of their great civilization the ancient Greeks had come so close to our age, not only in their thought but also in their scientific technology”

It’s the perfect symbol of what was lost/wasted in the fire of Alexandria. It reminds us of where we could’ve been had it not taken 1300+ years for technology & science to get back to where the Greeks already were. It’s as if progress was paused for more than a millennium. I think the next time gears would be so elegantly used, with this much precision and calculus, was probably verge and foliot clocks and orreries of the 13th and 14th centuries, respectively. And suddenly, the term “renaissance” makes so much sense.

Evaggelos Vallianatos, who we know from History’s Greatest Mysteries, writes for not on its significance as a standalone artifact, but as part and parcel of a