What looked like a hunk of corroded metal lying at the bottom of the Aegean Sea near the Greek island of Antikythera turned out to be a piece of a mysterious astronomical calculator. That was 115 years ago, on May 17, 1902, when archaeologist Valerios Stais discovered the bronze bit among other artifacts discovered on the Roman cargo ship called the Antikythera shipwreck.
Today’s Google Doodle celebrates that discovery with an illustration showing the biggest part of the Antikythera mechanism, which looks like a gear or wheel. Dating to about 85 B.C., or even earlier, the shoebox-size computer is intricate, with dials on the outside and 30 bronze gear wheels inside. Long ago, Greeks could have turned a hand crank on the device to reveal everything from the positions of the sun and the moon and the lunar phases to the cycles of the Greek Olympics. [Photos: Ancient Greek Shipwreck Yields Antikythera Mechanism]
The Antikythera mechanism was also equipped with a dial to predict eclipses. (The Google Doodle includes illustrations for some of these uses, such as the Olympic Games.)
To this day, historians and scientists continue to study the 2,000-year-old computer to reveal more of its secrets. For instance, scientists reported last summer that they found a user’s guide of sorts hidden in text on the 82 corroded metal fragments that make up the Antikythera mechanism. Much of the Greek text is unreadable to the naked eye, but with new imaging methods, such as 3D X-ray scanning, scientists have been able to view the once-hidden letters and words.