Tag Archive: astronomy

The Antikythera mechanism is a 2,100-year-old computer:

Antikythera mechanism Wikipedia

116 years ago (1902), divers found a chunk of bronze off a Greek island. It has radically changed our understanding of human history.

One hundred sixteen years ago, an archaeologist was sifting through objects found in the wreck of a 2,000-year-old vessel off the Greek island Antikythera. Among the wreck’s treasures, fine vases and pots, jewellery and, fittingly enough, a bronze statue of an ancient philosopher, he found a peculiar contraption, consisting of a series of brass gears and dials mounted in a case the size of a mantel clock. Archaeologists dubbed the instrument the Antikythera mechanism. The genius — and mystery — of this piece of ancient Greek technology is that arguably it is the world’s first computer. If we gaze inside the machine, we find clear evidence of at least two dozen gears, laid neatly on top of one another, calibrated with the precision of a master-crafted Swiss watch. This was a level of technology that archaeologists would usually date to the sixteenth century AD. But a mystery remained: What was this contraption used for? 

To archaeologists, it was immediately apparent that the mechanism was some sort of clock, calendar or calculating device. But they had no idea what it was for. For decades, they debated. Was the Antikythera a toy model of the planets or was it a kind of early astrolabe, a device which calculates latitude?

IMAGE ancient

At long last, in 1959, Princeton science historian Derek J. de Solla Price provided the most convincing scientific analysis of this amazing device to date. After a meticulous study of the gears, he deduced that the mechanism was used to predict the position of the planets and stars in the sky depending on the calendar month. The single primary gear would move to represent the calendar year, and would, in turn, activate many separate smaller gears to represent the motions of the planets, sun and moon. So you could set the main gear to the calendar date and get close approximations for where those celestial objects in the sky on that date. And Price declared in the pages of Scientific American that it was a computer: “The mechanism is like a great astronomical clock ... or like a modern analogue computer which uses mechanical parts to save tedious calculation.”
Anticythera mechanism frontal

Antikythera mechanism original
It was a computer in the sense that you, as a user, could input a few simple variables and it would yield a flurry of complicated mathematical calculations. Today the programming of computers is written in digital code, a series of ones and zeros. This ancient analog clock had its code written into the mathematical ratios of its gears. All the user had to do was enter the main date on one gear, and through a series of subsequent gear revolutions, the mechanism could calculate variables such as the angle of the sun crossing the sky. As a point of referencdee, mechanical calculators using gear ratios to add and subtract, didn’t surface in Europe until the 1600s. 

Since Price’s assessment, modern X-ray and 3D mapping technology have allowed scientists to peer deeper into the remains of the mechanism to learn even more of its secrets. In the early 2000s, researchers discovered text in the guise of an instruction manual that had never been seen before, inscribed on parts of the mechanism. The text, written in tiny typeface but legible ancient Greek, helped them bring closure to complete the puzzle of what the machine did and how it was operated.
The mechanism had several dials and clock faces, each which served a different function for measuring movements of the sun, moon, stars, and planets, but they were all operated by just one main crank. Small stone or glass orbs moved across the machine’s face to show the motion of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter in the night sky and the position of the sun and moon relative to the 12 constellations of the zodiac. Another dial would forecast solar and lunar eclipses and even, amazingly enough, predictions about their colour. Today, researchers surmise that different coloured eclipses were considered omens of the future. After all, the ancient Greeks, like all ancients, were a little superstitious. 

The mechanism consisted of:
- a solar calendar, charting the 365 days of the year 
- a lunar calendar, counting a 19 year lunar cycle 
- a tiny pearl-size ball that rotated to illustrate the phase of the moon, and another dial that counted down the days to regularly scheduled sporting events around the Greek isles, like the Olympics.  The mechanics of this device are absurdly complicated. A 2006, in the journal Nature, a paper plotted out a highly complex schematic of the mechanics that connect all the gears. 

Researchers are still not sure who exactly used it. Did philosophers, scientists and even mariners build it to assist them in their calculations? Or was it a type of a teaching tool, to show students the math that held the cosmos together? Was it unique? Or are there more similar devices yet to be discovered? To date, none others have been found.

Its assembly remains another mystery. How the ancient Greeks accomplished this astonishing feat is unknown to this day. Whatever it was used for and however it was built, we know this: its discovery has forever changed our understanding of human history, and reminds us that flashes of genius are possible in every human era. Nothing like this instrument is preserved elsewhere. Nothing comparable to it is known from any ancient scientific text or literary allusion,” Price wrote in 1959. “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.”

There are amazing fully operational modern versions of the Antikythera Mechanism, such as these:


another modern version of the Antikythera mechanism


Linear B tablet from Mycenae translated by Rita Roberts:

Linear B tablet from Mycenae translated by Rita Roberts 2018


1. Wodiyeya Deminiya l [NOTE 1]
2. Mano * [2] + Arekasadaraqe = Mano * and Arekasadara 2
3. Risura + Qotaqe = Risura and Qota 2
4. Eritupina  + Teodoraqe = Eritupina and Theodora 2
5. Otowowije +  tukateqe = Otowowije and her daughter 2
6. Anea + tukateqe = Anea and her daughter 2
7. Pirowona + Kiraqe ** [3] = Pirowona and Kira 2
8. Pukaro * [2] + Ketideqe = Pukaro and Kedite 2
9. ? Scratched ...?moqe = and …?mo 2
10. ... Maraqe = and Mara 2
11. scratched ? 1
12. ? + Kiraqe ** = and Kira 2 [3]
13. blank

[1] Since in Line 1, Wodiyeya Deminiya l is followed by the number 1, this can only be one person. Thus, her name is  Wodiyeya Deminiya.
[2] * Mano * and * Pukaro * are men's names. Line 11 also refers to only 1 person, but the name of the person is truncated, i.e. it no longer appears on the tablet.
[3] ** kira ** - or Kira = Ki/ra or Kei/ra = onomastics. Also appears on a Linear A tablet as Kira (onomastics). Complements of Rita Roberts

Greek transliteration:

1. a / #odie/ia Deminei/a
2. b / Ma/noj A0leca/ndra te/ 
3. b / Risu/ra Bo/ta te/ 
4. b / E0riqoupi/na Qeodo/ra te/  
5. b / O0qo#o#iei/ej quga/ter te/ 
6. b / A0ne/a quga/ter te/  
7. b / Piro#o/na Kei/ra te/ 
8. b / Puka/roj  Keti/dej te/ 
9. b / ... moj te/
10. b / ... M/a/ra te/ 
11. ... a /
12. b / Kei/ra te/ 

Archaeology, Anthropology and Interstellar Communication 2: Relevant Photography and Images

Here we see some photographs and images relevant to our translation of Richard Saint-Gelais' brilliant article,Archaeology, Anthropology and Interstellar Communication 2  research... and some not so relevant! First off, we have here a chart illustrating thee extreme geometric simplicity or more to the point, the Geometric Economy of Mycenaean Greek, which may indeed make it susceptible or even suitable to extraterrestrial communication with other intelligent beings, if we accept the “fact” that we ourselves are “intelligent”... a point which is open to serious debate!

The Geometric Economy of Mycenaean Linear B:

Geometric enonomy of Linear B

Moreover, Linear B's closest cousin, Arcado-Cypriot Linear C, which followed closely on the heels of Linear B, once it fell out of use with the fall of Mycenae ca. 1200 BCE, and which lasted continually from ca. 1100-400 BCE (!), is just as remarkable for its Geometric Economy as Linear B, and could equally serve the same capacity as a vehicle for extraterrestrial communication.

The Geometric Economy of Arcado-Cypriot Linear C:


On the other hand, nothing could be more ridiculous than the Voyager 1 satellite, launched on Sept. 5 1977, and now hurtling God knows where just outside the confines of our Solar System. Apart from the fact that a mechanical contraption such as this would (and will!) take hundreds of thousands of years to get anywhere at all, what is the point? Moreover, the premises upon which its means of communication with so-called extraterrestrials are based are so absurdly unsound as to beg credence. For instance, what extraterrestrial beings in their right minds (assuming they have minds like us) could conceivably recognize those ridiculous images of a naked man and woman?... unless they were even remotely similar to us physiologically... a likelihood that is about as realistic as winning a lottery of a trillion dollars. And that is just scratching the surface, as we shall discover to our great amusement when I eventually publish my article on Prof. Saint-Gelais' own research. There follow here a few images relative to the Voyager 1 probe which are liable to make you LOL.


pioneer_plaque_ for _real

The beginning of my translation of, Archaeology, Anthropology and Interstellar Communication 2, by Richard Saint-Gelais, Université Laval, Québec, Québec  

Before I get to the beginning of my translation of Richard Saint-Gelais' astonishing article on the practical and theoretical application of Mycenaean Linear B (I kid you not!) to interstellar communication between ourselves and other intelligent extraterrestrial beings, allow me to point out that the notion is not so far-fetched as it might seem at first sight. Certainly, it is not in the same “category” as Ufology or Ufologists chasing kooky dreams in “Area 51”. In fact, NASA itself sponsored this brilliant and insightful investigation which Prof. Sain-Gelais recently undertook under the auspices of NASA.

So this is serious business.. . which is why I am translating it in the first place. But I intend to take the project even further than that. Not only am I translating Prof. Saint-Gelais' in depth study, but I intend to follow my translation and his subsequent original text in French with a lengthy commentary on the feasibility of such interstellar communication, however remote. And remote it is. It is likely that I will need at least another month even to effect the translation, let alone to write the article, which I shall eventually be posting on my academia.edu account. Hopefully, I can then submit it to a scientific journal such as Science


or Astronomy 


Only time will tell. But I am quite sure some scientific publication will certainly be interested in this highly original research I have to offer. 

My translation: introduction:

Archaeology, Anthropology and Interstellar Communication 2

Chapter 5: Semiotic Outlook on SETI

As everyone knows, communication is a sensitive human venture. So there are reasons to doubt that this would be an easy thing to carry off across the universe. In this essay, I shall endeavour to explain a set of theoretical problems which might beset communication between us and extraterrestrial intelligent beings. I shall also attempt to map out the primary difficulties which we may encounter when we come face to face with the phenomenon (or to be more precise the hypothesis) underlying communication, by all appearances, with beings so profoundly unlike ourselves. Such difficulties are often articulated in epistemological terms or of sensorial incompatibility between interstellar beings belonging to such dissimilar species and cultural milieus communicating with one another that that grounds for mutual understanding proper to such communication will very likely be extremely weak. We are not even aware whether or not extraterrestrial beings are likely to perceive and conceive of their own reality in any way similar to the way we do, or if they are subject to the same sorts of cognitive categories as ours, or even if they are able to communicate by sight or sound.


Right off the top, I have to say that my position runs along the lines of epistemological skepticism as I have just outlined it. Still, my point of view differs somewhat, without however being incompatible with the epistemological approach. I intend to apply semiotic theories and methodologies to the problem of interstellar communication, all the while placing an emphasis on signs, language, meaning and interpretation. An easy but simplistic approach to the conception of such communication as this can be defined in terms of synchronization of a message received with its prior transmission, with message decoding at target pursuant to its coding at source, in the sense of meaning conveyed through the medium of the message itself considered as vehicle for its own context (Marshall McLuhan, The medium is the message). Still, understanding a message does not necessarily mean extracting something actually present in its own signs. On the contrary, it is implied that such signs can effectively integrated in an interpretational framework allowing the being targeted to confer meaning on them, in the sense that he or she can profit from elaborating on them, rather than extracting them from the source. For instance, let's take the example of a very basic repetitive sign consisting of two equilateral triangles with their bases flush, all the while pointing in opposite directions, one to the left and the other to the right. Occasionally, these two triangles are separated by a vertical line. A experiments re-writing “this” sign on a blackboard conducted with first year students have repeatedly shown me, they are met with looks of astonishment until I can provide them with a hint along the lines of, “Suppose that this is something you have spotted in an elevator”, by furnishing them with a context for interpretation allowing them to recognize the triangles as a conventional symbol opening up portals.

By Richard Saint-Gelais, Université Laval, Québec, Québec 

Archéologie, Anthropologie et Communication Interstellaire 2


Chapitre 5: Perspectives sémiotiques sur SETI

SETI@home Multi-Beam

La Communication, comme nous le savons tous, est une entreprise délicate entre les êtres humains. Donc, il y a des raisons de douter que ce serait une chose facile à travers l'univers. Dans cet essai, je vais essayer de décrire un ensemble de problèmes théoriques qui pourraient affecter la communication avec des intelligences extraterrestres. Je vais aussi essayer de cartographier les principales difficultés qui se posent lorsque l'on regarde le phénomène (ou plus exactement l'hypothèse) de communication entre ce qui sera, selon toute vraisemblance, des espèces profondément différentes. Ces difficultés sont souvent exprimées en termes d'épistémique et d'incompatibilité sensorielle entre des interlocuteurs interstellaires qui appartiennent à des espèces et des cultures si différentes que le terrain d'entente nécessaire à la communication pourrait être vraiment très faible. Nous ne savons pas si les extraterrestres vont percevoir et concevoir leur réalité de façon similaire à la nôtre, en utilisant les mêmes catégories cognitives, ou même si ils vont communiquer par les voies visuelles et acoustiques.


Je dois dire d'emblée que ma position est similaire au scepticisme épistémique que je viens de mentionner. Mais mon point de vue sera légèrement différent de ça, mais pas incompatible avec la perspective épistémique. Je vais appliquer les théories et les méthodes d'analyses sémiotiques au problème de la communication interstellaire, en mettant l'accent sur ??les signes, le langage, le sens et l'interprétation. Une facile mais simpliste conception de la communication se définit comme la production d'une émission suivie d'une phase de réception, un codage puis un décodage d'un sens donné à travers un message qui est considéré comme un véhicule pour ce contenu. Mais la compréhension d'un message n'est pas d'extraire quelque chose de physiquement présent dans les signes. Elle implique, au contraire, l'intégration de ces signes dans un cadre d'interprétation qui permet au destinataire de leur donner des significations, un sens que le bénéficiaire doit élaborer, pas extraire. Prenez, par exemple, un signe très simple et fréquent qui consiste en deux triangles équilatéraux placés la base à la base et pointant dans des directions opposées, l'une à gauche, l'autre à droite; Ces deux triangles sont parfois séparés par une ligne verticale. Comme des expériences répétées avec les étudiants de premier cycle me l'ont montré, une reproduction de ce signe sur le tableau noir ne rencontre que perplexité jusqu'à ce que je leur offre l'indice "suppose que c'est quelque chose que vous voyez dans un ascenseur", fournissant une interprétation du contexte, qui leur permet de reconnaître les triangles comme le symbole conventionnel pour ouvrir les portes.

Par Richard Saint-Gelais, Université Laval, Québec, Québec 

MEDIA Post: New MENU Category, MEDIA for images, videos & films on our blog...  

Linear B Knossos & Mycenae MENUS 01122014
We have just added a new MENU Category, MEDIA, where you will find all archived posts which are primarily in media format: images, videos & films. Images and videos dealing specifically with Knossos & Mycenae are usually not in this MENU, but in their own, also illustrated here:

Thank you


Astounding Discovery! Look What I Found from NASA on Linear B! You’ll be amazed! PART 1

Click this banner to read the entire Chapter:


Once you open the NASA PDF file, just scroll down the Table of Contents to Chapter 5: Beyond Linear B. You will then need to continue scrolling until you reach page 79. You can then scroll page by page through the whole of Chapter 5. I am willing to bet this is going to be as mind-blowing a read for you as it was for me. Here are just a few tantalizing excerpts from Chapter 5:

Excerpts from Chapter 5, by Richard Saint-Gelais

pg. 81:
... the deciphering of coded messages or inscriptions written in extinct languages — may provide a fresh look at the problems involved.

pg. 82:
At first glance, the difficulties involved in the decipherment of coded messages or ancient scripts suggest a rather pessimistic view of the interstellar communication challenge, for if it took specialists many years to solve the enigma of writing systems devised by human beings... passim ... it seems unrealistic to imagine that our messages could be easily understood by beings whose culture, history, and even biology will differ vastly from ours. How can we be sure that some well-meaning interpreter will not misread our intended message?

On a semiotic level, the similarity between the three kinds of situations is readily apparent. Deciphering inscriptions in unknown languages or messages in secret codes implies coping with strings of signs without having any prior knowledge of the encoding rules, so recognizing these rules become one of the ends (instead of the means, as is usually the case) of the interpretive process. The decipherer of unknown languages tries to establish the phonetic and/or semantic value of symbols... passim ... 

I use the word signal instead of sign because at the early stage of interpretation, decipherers must still identify the relevant semiotic units. They are confronted with signals — i.e., material manifestations of some kind (strokes on clay tablets, microwaves of a certain frequency) — that may be signs. A sign is more abstract in nature: it is a semiotic configuration that is relatively independent of the concrete signals that embody it because it is defined by a limited number of relevant features,... 

pg. 89:
The second way is to think up self-contextualizing messages — or, in other words, self-interpreting signs. A self-interpreting sign is easier conceptualized than created. Let’s consider, for instance, the pictograms imagined by H. W. Nieman and C. Wells Nieman, which would be sent as sequences of pulses that correspond to the dots into which an image has been decomposed. In order to reconstruct the correct image, the recipients would need first to convert the linear signal into a bi-dimensional structure and then to interpret that structure to determine what it might signify or represent... passim ... Frank Drake imagined an easy and ingenious way to point to this, by making the total number of dots equal the product of two prime numbers, say 17 and 23, so that the transmitted message can be construed only as a 17-by-23-cell grid. Such a signal is as close as we may come to a message embodying an interpretive instruction. It assumes only a basic knowledge of prime numbers, which is not asking too much. So this instruction looks promising, but only insofar as the recipient deduces that the signal corresponds to a rectangular grid (See next post for more).

pg. 91:
We must remember that a message is composed not of one isolated sign but of (sometimes complex) combinations of signs, which may contribute to their mutual elucidation. This is precisely the idea behind Vakoch’s proposal of a sequence of frames, each of which would contain six distinct areas: one for the picture; four for different parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs); and one for the interrelationship between two successive frames (a meta-sign, then). Here we have a combination of icons (the shape of a human body, or of parts of it) and symbols: nouns for what is shown in the picture, adjectives for properties of that object (e.g., high, low, etc.), verbs for actions performed by the character between two successive frames, and adverbs for characteristics of that action (fast, slow). At first it may seem dubious that a recipient could establish a correlation between a given symbol and what it is intended to designate, or even that this recipient could identify it as a symbol and not as part of the picture. What may decisively help this eventual recipient is the mutual interpretation that parts of the message provide for one another ... passim... and the systematic interplay of repetition and variation between frames, which will give recipients the opportunity to make conjectures — abductions — that the subsequent frames may either confirm or inform... passim...

What we know of interpretation shows that this inability to control reception is always the case anyway, and that it is not necessarily a bad thing. A widespread conception of communication rests on the premise that successful reception of a message is one that recovers the meaning its sender meant to convey through it. But the history of the decipherment of unknown languages shows that things are never so simple, and that oblique ways of reading sometimes lead to unexpected breakthroughs. In his book on extinct languages, Johannes Friedrich points out that the direction in which a script should be read can sometimes be deduced from the pp. 92-93 (ff.) empty space at the end of an inscription’s last line. Here we have an index, a sign caused by its object: the direction of writing is concretely responsible for which side of the last line is left blank. But this is not so conspicuous a sign that it does not require a piece of abductive reasoning. Strange as it may seem, I see in this small example some grounds for hope regarding interstellar communication. We tend to conceptualize communication with extraterrestrial intelligences in terms of the successful transmission of intended meanings. But the production and reception of signs cannot be restricted to an intentional plane. An important feature of most indices is their unintentional nature.

Richard Saint-Gelais

The Amazing Antikythera Mechanism: the First Analog Computer in History?

To read this article in its entirety, please click on the Wikipedia logo below:


The “Antikythera mechanism” was recovered from a shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera in 1900-1901, at the precise time the city of Knossos was being excavated by Sir Arthur Evans. Its significance and complexity were not understood until a century later when it was analyzed with modern X-ray technology. Its construction has been attributed to the Hellenistic Greeks. Technological artifacts approaching its complexity and workmanship did not appear again until the fourteenth century, when mechanical astronomical clocks were first constructed in Western Europe.  Professor Michael Edmunds of Cardiff University, who led a 2006 study of the mechanism, said, “This device is just extraordinary, the only thing of its kind. The design is beautiful, the astronomy is exactly right. The way the mechanics are designed just makes your jaw drop. Whoever has done this has done it extremely carefully ... in terms of historic and scarcity value, I have to regard this mechanism as being more valuable than the Mona Lisa.” Illustration of the Antikythera archeological mechanism, with radiographic details of its intricate gearing system (Click to ENLARGE):

Antikythera Mechanism archaeological find
The mechanism was housed in a wooden box approximately 340 × 180 × 90 mm in size and comprised 30 (!) bronze gears(although more could have been lost). The largest gear, clearly visible in fragment A, is approximately 140 mm in diameter and has 223 teeth. 

You may also wish to consult The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project. Click on the logo:

Antikythera Muserum


from which I draw this résumé. The Antikythera Mechanism is a Hellenistic astronomical machine with bronze gearing system, made about the second century B.C, preserved in fragments only. In 2005, new data considerably enhanced our knowledge of its functions, being as it is an instrument measuring geocentric cosmology, portraying the stars, Sun, Moon, and all five planets known in antiquity.

Here are images of the gearing system and a modern reconstruction of the truly elegant Antikythera Mechanism (Click to ENLARGE):

Antikythera front gears and B&W cutaway & modern recon
and again, in Scientific American 2009. Click on the logo to read the article:


Résumé: The Antikythera mechanism is a unique & highly sophisticated mechanical analog calculator from the second-century BCE. Advanced imaging tools have enabled researchers to reconstruct how the device predicted with such astonishing accuracy lunar and solar eclipses and the motion of the moon in the sky.

To read about the much earlier Minoan Disc (so-called Analog Computer) see the previous post. It is almost as mind-blowing! 


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