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Decoding the Heavens: Solving the Mystery of the World's First Computer.

Decoding the Heavens: Solving the Mystery of the World's First Computer. Jo Marchant. William Heinemann. [pounds sterling]12.99. [vii] + 328 pages. ISBN 978-0-434-01835-2. Dr Marchant is an editor at New Scientist, and here describes a discovery (1901) and a search. The discovery was of a device, which dates from ca. 70 BC, that looked like the inside of an alarm clock' with at least 30 gear wheels. It was named the 'Antikythera mechanism' in honour of its place of discovery. The search was to discover what the device, which resembles an early computer, was meant to do. Dr Marchant describes the attempts over the past 108 years to learn what this mechanism did. Although research continues, scientists now believe that it 'displayed the state of the skies at any chosen moment ... [and] incorporated sophisticated astronomy theory' in order (a) to cast horoscopes or (b) to demonstrate 'the workings of the heavens' for religious or philosophical purposes. (It could, for example, predict eclipses.) Of even greater importance is our altered views of Greek civilisation and on our understanding of mechanical 'progress'. (J.T.D.R.)
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Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Brief article
Date:Sep 22, 2009
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