Were it not for Valerios Stais, an important relic in the history of the computer might have gone undiscovered forever.
While sifting through artifacts recovered two years earlier from a Roman shipwreck, the Greek archaeologist noticed an intriguing lump of bronze among the statues, jewelry and coins retrieved by divers. What at first appeared to be a gear or wheel turned out to be what is now widely referred to as the first known analog computer.
To highlight Stais’ discovery, 115 years ago Wednesday, Google dedicated its doodle to the Antikythera mechanism, a complex clockwork mechanism believed to have been designed and constructed by Greek scientists around 87 BC, or even earlier. Housed in a wooden and bronze box the size of a shoe box, the corroded instrument’s 30 bronze gears were used to track astronomical positions, predict solar and lunar eclipses, and signaled the timing of the Ancient Olympic Games.
The technical complexity and workmanship of the mechanism wouldn’t be duplicated again until development of astronomical clocks in Europe during the 14th century, suggesting the knowledge used to create the device had been lost to antiquity. The mechanism is now kept at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
As Google points out, the doodle illustrates how a rusty remnant can open up a skyful of knowledge and inspiration.
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