The world’s oldest computer was governed by the Greek lunar calendar

Like the Voynich manuscript, the Antikythera mechanism is one of the great mysteries of science and technology of the past centuries. It is a device the size of a shoebox that It was used to follow the movements of the sun, moon and planetsIt was found by sponge divers off the Greek island of Antikythera in 1901 and due to its appearance it is considered the oldest computer in the world.

A piece of the mechanism, known as a “calendar ring,” was used to track the days of the year, with one hole for each day. While the ring has been known for some time, It has only been partially preservedso it’s unclear how many days it was supposed to be tracked.

In 2020, a team led by independent researcher Chris Budiselic used new X-ray images of the device, combined with measurements and mathematical analysis, to determine that the mechanism probably It did not cover a full solar calendar year, but rather 354 dayswhich corresponds to a lunar calendar. The data was not confirmed again and the doubt persisted.

But now another study, published in The Horological Journal, has provided new information. Led by a team from the University of Glasgow, statistical techniques developed for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory were used to detect gravitational waves: ripples in space-time produced by the collisions of massive celestial objects like black holes. These statistical methods are sensitive enough to detect weak signals from a potentially very noisy background.

When the authors, led by Graham Woan, used mathematical statistics on the Antikythera Mechanism, they were able to pinpoint the location of the known holes, as well as the likely way the fragments of the mechanism fit together, to deduce the number and location of missing holes. They eventually determined that the mechanism probably had 354 or 355 holes. This meant that it probably followed the 354-day lunar calendar used in Greece at the time, rather than the more accurate 365-day calendar used by the ancient Egyptians.

“The precision of the positioning of the holes would have required very precise measurement techniques and an incredibly steady hand to drill them,” Woan explains in a statement. “It is a clear symmetry that we have adapted.” the techniques we use to study the universe today to understand more about a mechanism that helped people track the skies nearly two millennia ago.”

The Antikythera Mechanism is a 20-century-old device that, despite its severe corrosion and many missing elements, “the application of increasingly sophisticated technologies and innovative interdisciplinary analysis continues providing impressive information about this remarkable artifact”, the study concludes.