The world’s oldest known computer, a 2,000-year-old Greek-built astronomical calendar, has been brought back to life in Lego form.
The Antikythera mechanism is a sophisticated, scientific instrument built in Ancient Greece around 100 BC. It was then lost for 2000 years in a Roman shipwreck below the seas off Antikythera island, until divers discovered it in 1901.
But while historians and archaeologists were fascinated by its complexity and precision, the amount of corrosion and number of missing parts meant its exact purpose was still unconfirmed for another century.
In 2006, archaeologists used high resolution X-ray tomography to peer behind the layers of filth and rust to read and translate more Greek inscriptions. The findings led historians to realise the computer was actually an incredibly accurate celestial calendar, capable of predicting solar and lunar eclipses.
And now Apple software engineer Andrew Carol has knocked up a faithful recreation of the machine out of Lego. He received the recreation request after building a Babbage Difference Engine in Lego.
The plastic Antikythera mechanism took just 30 days to design, prototype and build, and uses 1,500 Lego Technic parts and 110 gears. Slightly more than the original machine, but Carol had to work with the sizes that the Danish toy maker produced.
The final contraption is an incredible feat of engineering, with four separate gear boxes all linked up to a central pair of clocks that can tell you, to an accuracy of two hours, the exact time and date of upcoming solar and lunar eclipses. According to the machine, the next solar eclipse is due at 4:30 GMT on 8 April, 2024.
The remake is a fitting tribute to the relic, which remains as one of the forefathers of modern computing and mechanics. The ancient computer predated devices with such complexity and design by several centuries, as similar astronomical mechanisms didn’t crop up again until the 14th century AD in Europe. The original Antikythera mechanism is kept at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.