Researchers propose a ‘day zero’ for the oldest computer ever discovered

Built sometime between 200 BC and 60 BC, the Antikythera engine is the oldest known computer engine in existence. This ancient device equipped to track the skies is in terrible shape after all this time.

But despite the rust, researchers may have finally revealed the date it was first marked – otherwise known as “Day Zero”.

The mechanism is actually a hand-wound watch, used to calculate the movements of the sun, moon and planets and predict eclipses. It was discovered more than a century ago in a shipwreck, says NewScientist (opens in new tab)after a gale drove divers to the barren islet of Antikythera – hence the name.

Since then, the mechanism has made waves in our understanding of how technologically advanced the ancient Greeks were. It is proven that its technical capacity has gone far beyond what we initially thought. Archimedes himself may even have participated in the original design of mechanisms like this one, as it has ties to his hometown of Syracuse.

Mathias Buttet, Director of Research and Development at Hublot, who helped recreate a wearable version of the engine (opens in new tab) says the “Antikythera mechanism includes ingenious features not found in modern watchmaking”. This all indicates that the ancient Greeks were better at measuring time than we thought.

But as with any measuring mechanism, calibrations are necessary. For a watch like this, calibrations would require a start date to ensure device accuracy.

Image 1 of 4

(Image credit: Antikythera Youtube channel)
Image 2 of 4

Close-ups of the Antikythera Mechanism.

(Image credit: Antikythera Youtube channel)
Image 3 of 4

Renderings of the Antikythera engine.

(Image credit: Antikythera Youtube channel)
Image 4 of 4

Close-ups of the Antikythera Mechanism.

(Image credit: Antikythera Youtube channel)

recent advances (opens in new tab) pointed to the calibration date being around the time the moon was at its apogee position, its farthest position in Earth’s orbit, which causes a sort of solar eclipse.

Aristeidis Voulgaris, from the Directorate of Culture and Tourism in Salonica, Greece, surmised that the calibration date was around December 23, 178 BC, supporting it on the fact that several other culturally important astronomical events took place simultaneously. The Winter Solstice is an event that helped bring the team to completion, not least because the engine’s inscription specifically mentions it.

Four independent calculations were made by other researchers, which put the device’s calibration closer to 204 BC, however. These calculations were based on the period when the engine’s astronomical predictions were most accurate, but put the date in the summer. This potential has researchers scratching their heads at the prominence of the device’s winter solstice inscription.

It looks like there’s still some way to go before researchers agree on a Day Zero for the Antikythera engine, then. Still, it’s nice to know that this ancient precursor to modern technology isn’t being forgotten, even after all these years.

Leave a Comment