The 10 Most Not-So-Puzzling Ancient Artifacts: The Antikythera Mechanism

Before we can fully appreciate the Antikythera Mechanism, I first have to point out that clockwork and steam powered mechanisms were well known and in use in Ancient Greece, Egypt, India, and China. Things such as mechanical clocks, Automa, and various forms of calendars were in use.  Two and a half millennia before the Mechanism, India used gears to drive doors and lift water (Dunning 2009).

One of the most well known developers of steam and clockwork devices in ancient Greece was Hero of Alexandria, aka Heron. His writings on hydraulics, pneumatics and mechanics were translated into Latin in the sixteenth century and later were reconstructed (Handworx). His designs produced a variety of machines including an aeolipile, a rocket-like reaction engine and the first recorded steam engine (Handworx).

An Illustration of an Aeolipile

China also enjoyed clockwork devices that did a variety of things including keeping track of directions and counting the distance traveled.  The South Pointing Chariot  dates back to 2600 BC and is considered one of the most complex devices of it’s time (Handworx). The chariot sported a figure that always pointed south and drums that kept track of the revolution of the wheels, allowing users to measure distance (Handworx).

A Reconstruction of the South Pointing Chariot

Which brings us to the Antikythera Mechanism, so called because it was found by sponge divers at the bottom of the sea near the island of Antikythera near Crete (Antikythera).

This is a first for this series, because this artifact is actually real.

Now if you read the blurb about it in The 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts, you’re led to believe that the ancient world had no clue how to make these kinds of devices, and that nothing with gears ever existed until 1575!  Please re-read the previous paragraphs, then let’s move on.

The Antikythera Mechanism is real, and we do know what it was used for, though the fine details are still up for debate. The Mechanism itself dates from around the end of the 1st century B.C.E. and is one of the most sophisticated mechanisms of it’s time (Antikythera, Dunning 2009). However, close examination of the device shows that every piece is exact and hasn’t been modified after manufacture (Antikythera). Meaning, this was the end product of a great deal of trial and error, like any great invention. Those working on the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project (AMRP) speculate that there may have been as many as ten prototypes leading up to the Mechanism (Antikythera).

The Mechanism is understood to be a complex astrological calendar keeping track of astronomical phenomena (Freeth 2006). It calculated celestial information and displayed cycles of the phases of the moon and lunar/solar calendar (Freeth 2006). It also could predict lunar and solar eclipses on the basis of Babylonian arithmetic-progression cycles (Freeth 2006), which are calculations that are older than most civilizations, ’cause the Babylonians kinda rocked.

The Mechanism is currently on display at  the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. The three main fragments of the Antikythera Mechanism are in the Bronze Collection and are watched over by Mary Zafeiropoulou, who also works with AMRP to study the Mechanism (Antikythera).

There are about 82 surviving fragments and through the AMRP’s efforts, those pieces have been scanned, digitized and 3D-afied (Antikythera). The AMRP also made all of their research available to the public, and you can read where they are with their research at the Overview page for the project. They also have a You Tube channel with some cool short vids. They’ve reported their finding to the journal Nature as well, talking about their use of surface imaging and high-resolution X-ray tomography of the surviving fragments (Freeth 2006). Using these methods they have managed to reconstruct the gear function and double the number of deciphered inscriptions on the fragments (Freeth 2006). Which, among other things, leads to really cool pictures.

These claims that the ancient world was without the knowledge to produce such devices are completely unfounded and can only come from a lack of knowledge about ancient times. Also, to say that we humans needed alien intervention to create something as complex as the Antikythera Mechanism is insulting. Our ancient ancestors are the same as modern humans. If we could figure it out today, which we have, then our ancestors could have figured it out too. Given resources and time, humans have proven they can do almost anything they put their minds to, for good or evil. We have no need for Aliens, Atlantians, or even Gods to aid us, and I think that is what this device shows best.

The Mechanism is a testament to human ability as much as any great earthwork or monument. Let’s not cheapen it.


The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project. Accessed May 25 2012.

Dunning, Brian.

2009. The Antikythera Mechanism. Skeptoid. December 15, 2009
href=”″> Accessed May 25 2012.

Freeth, T. et al.

2006  Antikythera Mechanism. Nature. Vol 444: 587-591. 30 November 2006. Received 10 August 2006; Accepted 17 October 2006. Accessed May 25 2012.

Handworx. Gearworx History. Accessed May 25 2012.

19 thoughts on “The 10 Most Not-So-Puzzling Ancient Artifacts: The Antikythera Mechanism

Add yours

  1. Great explanation! You even showed me some ancient ertifacts I did not know about! My one problem is that I came here from your YouTube vlog where you say your initial reaction to the “10 Most” list was that the items were obviously faked. I am bothered by this reaction and the motivations/beliefs behind it. By this logic, if you had found a domestic dog bone in Upper Paleolithic strata in, say, 1972 you would have also called it a hoax. We didn’t know that dogs were domesticated that early until more recently. It is true that the article in question leads us to believe that gears weren’t invented until 15 hundred something, but Wikipedia makes that mistake too (or at least used to), and the info was probably originally taken from an older, but more legitimate source. My point is that just because there’s one mistake in a description doesn’t make it a hoax, and your knee-jerk reaction to the “To 10” was that they were all hoaxes. What is your knee-jerk reaction to the “Genetic Disc” of lydite and the supposedly associated lydite midwifing tools?


    1. I’m sorry but I don’t see a connection between my initial reaction to the “10 Most” list and your hypothetical dog bone. I think you are making a number of assumptions there that are not warranted. In the case of the Antikythera Mechanisum I changed my opinions, as one should, when I found solid evidence to the contrary. If your hypothetical dog bone was found, documented, and studied properly, then the whole of the archaeological community would change their minds. If someone simply claimed that they found something resembling a dog bone, and then promptly lost said bone, then no one should believe that story. This is a very simplistic answer to the hypothetical because there are a lot of factors that would go into it, lots of studies that would have to be done, dating, comparisons, etc.

      As per this “Genetic Disk”, the name alone makes me wary. After doing a quick google on it, I am even more dubious since the only sites that pop-up for me are quack sites. When I look at the pictures of the disc et al, they all look very modern to me and that is a red flag for me. Not being able to find academic sites is another red flag. I am rather impressed that it doesn’t even pop up on a Wiki search. Also, if this thing really was what it claims to be it would be a much bigger deal among archaeologists, which it doesn’t appear to be. So, I will have to default to the opinion that it is a hoax, a very pretty one, but a hoax none the less. Until better evidence can be presented otherwise, this is my “knee jerk” reaction.


  2. Yeah Im definitely curious y they wouldnt do documented carbon dating on the genetic disc. One theory I heard was that it not only blows some religions out the water, it also contradicts evolution, therefore the powers that be wont admit to any of it.


    1. There are several things that pop out about this comment, but to answer the immediate question, the disk hasn’t been carbon-dated because it’s made out of stone, and stone cannot be carbon-dated.

      The idea that the disk somehow threatens religion and science is unfounded and unsupportable. From all reliable sources, the disk is nothing more then a very pretty hoax. There are several red flags that come to the forefront when talking about the disk, the first of which is it’s mysterious discovery, lack of documentation, and the fact that it doesn’t look anything like any known artifact ever. It’s like the artist didn’t even try. Also, though the Museum of Natural History, Vienna, Austria, does exist, the other individuals involved do not appear to. Not to mention I’m not sure why an MD was brought in to look over a supposed ancient artifact. I assure you, archaeologist all know what sperm, embryos, and human genitalia looks like, we don’t need an MD to tell us.

      If we assume that the disk was a real artifact, then there would be no reason to suppress it from a scientific viewpoint. There is nothing threatening about learning something new about our past. Many researchers would jump at an opportunity to study something that had the potential to change out understanding of human history.


      1. “and the fact that it doesn’t look anything like any known artifact ever.”

        Might you say the same thing about the A.M. ? This artifact was not “documented” very well at the time of discovery either. Found NOT by archeological discovery and not even researched until several years after discovery.

        Metal is difficult to carbon date as well (I admit the concretions surrounding the device can be dated properly) but this also could be faked.

        My point is just because there are no similar artifacts is not a strong argument.


      2. No, I would not say the same about the A.M. There are several similar devices that have survived throughout the years, as well as historical documentation that supports its ability to exist. Not to mention, when actual research is done on the mechanism it continues to produce reliable results.

        These same things are not true of the Genetic Disk. It isn’t made of metal, and even it it was, C14 dating wouldn’t work on it anyway. There is now way to study the actual disk, and the one time it has been examined by experts, they effectively declared it a fake. There is no corresponding cultural association that even comes close to the disk, and no other examples that are like it. There is literally nothing else like it, and that is very suspect. Added to that, expert analysis that doesn’t fit with the claims being made about the disk, and you have a very strong claim of hoax here.

        If you haven’t read the corresponding blog post about the genetic disk I suggest you do. I lay out a much better explanation there.


  3. If mainstream researchers aren’t threatened by evidence that may overturn their earlier beliefs, why such resistance to the idea that ancient Egyptians may have started much earlier than the commonly held belief of about 3000 bc. The Egyptians themselves wrote about there history extending farther into the past, and water erosion at the sphinx pushes its construction much farther as well. Maybe I’m getting my information from bad sources, but I feel like some historians have extremely rigid perception of the past.


    1. I have never heard of this kind of push-back, but most cultures have personal history (written or oral) that claims their culture is older then the evidence suggests. This is a constant point of contention with native peoples and archaeologists/historians. It’s also part of the cause of political unrest in some areas. However, written and oral histories are not themselves, evidence, and need to be taken with grains of salt. Which is why, when in doubt, “mainstream” researchers will always fall back on tangible evidence.

      Plus, if you doubt your sources enough to ask this question, then I recommend triple checking the source. Check their sources, citations, and the reliability of their provided evidence. Keep a check list of red flags that pop up as you look over their claims, and remember opinion is not fact, and anecdotes are not evidence.


  4. “Many researchers would jump at an opportunity to study something that had the potential to change out understanding of human history.”

    That’s not true at all. Lots of scientific discoveries that have proven true were met with complete skepticism and scoffed at as nonsense. Both Copernicus and Galileo had books that were banned. Copernicus was at least fortunate enough to not have to face the Inquisition.

    You may argue that it was because of ‘religious doctrine’ that these gentlemen faced such hard times. But hasn’t science also become a sort of religion itself? The church didn’t wan’t to listen to scientific facts because it went against what they believed. Likewise, science today has taken this same view with the phrase, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof”.

    We label people with negative words like “conspiracy theorist” or “global warming denier” and scoff at the evidence they present. Yet many of those same theorists and deniers have eventually been proven to be correct after years of research and the release of declassified materials.

    So to say that researchers would jump at the chance to change human history may sound good in your blog, but really nothing could be further from the truth. Just ask those who have tried.


  5. What’s funny is the author of this site is so certain, arrogant and belittling rather, with their opinions on various objects of antiquity. Loses credibility for clear demonstrations of insecurities, doubting self behind the scenes, and for a reason. Glad you were around when everything you know so certainly know the answers to was created. Thank God. What would humanity do without you? Phew. …and as you are so certain in one hand that humans are so incredible, you come off in your articles as if they were morons. lol


  6. I love this site. You’d don’t get nearly enough credit. It’s unfortunate that the people that find you belittling are belittling. I find it funny that you are accused of having a religious (for lack of a better word) view of the sciences by people zealously clinging to unproven and/or debunked information that they take on faith. It seems that most of your critics are pots, kettle. Keep on answering fanciful pseudo history with and logic knowledge. Don’t let the trolls get you down. One thing though, you should pointed out that the first mention of a southward pointing chariot was 2600, because the first physical evidence of one is much latter. You don’t want to give the goons any ammo.

    Have you ever been hounded by crazy hair the ancient alien douche?


  7. Author, regarding the quote

    “Two and a half millennia before the Mechanism, India used gears to drive doors and lift water (Dunning 2009).”

    posted from Dunning’s website, do you know exactly which text he is referencing there?

    I don’t doubt it since there are still gear molds in museums from the Han Dynasty (older than the Antiythera)

    and Chinese literature talks of mechanical orchestras before that time, much like Al Jazari’s automata which appeared much later.

    I know this is an older post but if you know the text that would be fantastic. I have plenty of time and I know you’re busy with other things but the reference to that quote would be fantastic. If you don’t find out in a couple years I’ll just find it on my own


  8. Quite interesting. I’ve known of simple mechanical devices from ancient times (I actually have a working model of that jet steam engine), but what surprised me about the Antikythera Mechanism is its complexity. I think archaeology is perhaps not very good at telling the world about its discoveries, hence the generally high level of surprise at the revelation of this device’s existence. It makes me wonder how many clockwork devices from ancient times have been discarded by archaeologists in the past as “modern contamination” and not been subjected to critical scrutiny.
    I’m currently reading Alex Jones’s book on it (A Portable Cosmos), and another surprise (for me at least) is that they had no absolute count of years, but simply counted from the inauguration of each new ruler. To make a device like this, which obviously was designed to cover a considerable timespan, and yet not have a count of the years seems very strange. Perhaps you know of an explanation?


    1. I’m not familiar with Alex Jones’ book, but I’ll add it to my reading list. I know that the Antikythera Mechanism was supposed to keep track of sun and star cycles, but beyound that I can’t say.


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