In 1901, sponge divers pulled a lump of metal, encrusted in the remains of a wooden box, from a Roman shipwreck. The mysterious box was 13.4x7.1x3.5 inches (34x18x9 cm) in size. The find was first dated to about 60-70 BC, though some still argue it may be up to 150 years older. A year after the discovery, a Greek archaeologist noticed what appeared to be a bronze gear embedded in some of the crust. He wasn’t taken seriously. Conventional wisdom said that clockwork didn’t exist until after 1300 AD, despite Aristotle describing gears and Archimedes possibly making geared mechanical devices, including an odometer and a “planetaria” over 200 years before.
It took a long time for X-ray and other imaging technology to uncover the inner workings of this box. It became known as the “Antikythera Mechanism” after the Greek island near which it was found. As time went on, the device was found to have at least 30 handmade gears, and maybe several more, some of which corresponded to known motions of the sun, moon, and planets in relation to the stars. Dials with labels and pointers were discovered and decoded, showing that the device was a very complex analog computer that could accurately predict phases of the moon, tides, positions of celestial bodies, solar and lunar eclipses, and other events, well over 400 years into the future. Is this Archimedes’ famous “planetaria?” Or a descendant of that device?
As early as 2700 BC, the Chinese may have had a gear-driven, direction-finding chariot that always pointed in the direction you pointed it at the beginning, no matter how you turned or wandered during your journey. Clearly, the ancients were much more clever than we generally suppose!