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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 wider plan of improving civilization itself. Greek philosophers added to the cosmic elements of cold, hot, dry, and wet, the concepts of equality and justice as governing virtues in the Cosmos.

That vision also made the Antikythera computer. Its front plate was a Cosmos of the Sun god Helios, his sister, Selene, the Moon, phases of the Moon, the planets and major stars and constellations. This Cosmos was embraced by the inside circle of the Zodiac with its 12 constellations and an outside circle of the 365-day year.

This genius computer was a pipeline between the gods and Greeks. It predicted the eclipses of the Sun and the Moon. It connected the Cosmos and natural phenomena to the Olympics and other Panhellenic celebrations of the gods and athletic and cultural competition and excellence.

With Greeks free to continue their science and civilization dream, in all likelihood the Antikythera device would have triggered an industrial age of advanced technologies. There would have been no Dark Ages.”

It's amazing that despite most of their assumptions being wrong, namely the geocentric universe, alchemy, and astrology, the Greeks made a mechanism that could calculate the true motion of the planets.


a draft of the faceplate of the Open Antikythera
a draft for the front plate design

I used a few different sources as inspiration for these designs. in fact, these symbols have been represented for thousands of years and in various contexts. I think in our time, Most people are familiar with them because of astrology, which 29% of Americans say they believe in according to Pew in 2018. I think it's cool to use the symbols of the Zodiac and relate them back to real astronomy

draft of Open Antikythera faceplate
Espanded draft of the faceplate

You can think of the display as the dial of watch representing a calendar with months and Zodiac signs representing constellations, wrap around the dial. The hands of the clock are the known heavenly bodies; the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn as well as a red DATE needle that extends all the way to the 'months ring'. I used Photoshop for all these graphics.

Various lists of concepts from the ancient world, originally in Greek, in our version, are represented symbolically and in English. The lists are the Zodiac symbols, months of the year with solstices and equinoxes, the heavenly bodies and days of the week, as well as the Elements" of the old world.

Mockup of the keychain
Mockup of the keychain
Open Antikythera keychain
Our Open Antikythera keychain

The keychain shows the zodiac symbols on a gear. The Sun and Moon are outlined inside.

Looking forward to bringing this device to Kickstarter :)


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