You mentioned that a researcher encountering a miracle in their research would most likely disregard the event, however what do you do when that miracle is something like the Antikythera Mechanism? We can xray and study it, but all the data we collect seems to completely contradict our understanding of the Helenistic world. With so little other data available and so many gaping holes in our understanding as it is, assimilating the existence of the Antikythera device challenges so many of the basics in what we believe and calls the entire structure of model into question. Does one simply disregard it, assume it’s an outlier, or toss out the book and write a new one?
This has really been bugging me for a while. 


I have heard quite a bit about the Antikythera Mechanism. It certainly is a fascinating find. Scholars and historians of technology have had a lot of fun with this interesting device. It was a kind of mechanical "calculator" which, when turned, would show the precession of the moon, the sun, and probably the five planets, as well as two eclipse cycles (the metonic cycle of 235 lunar months and the 54 year "triple saros). We know from other writings that all these cycles were well known in the Greek world of the second century BC.

My view on this is that the device proves that the Greeks were more advanced in building mechanical devices that we had been previously convinced of. It is possible to exaggerate how surprising the device is. There is evidence that Archimedes built a similar type of astronomical calculator about 200 BC. Cisero mentions two machines built by Archimedes in his text De Republica. He describes a bronze device which is turned in a way somewhat similar to the Antikythera Mechanism. We do not have drawings of the device. It may have been somewhat less complicated than the Antikythera machine. We do know that the Greeks were very sophisticated in their astronomical observations. Their knowledge of the motions of the planets and stars was sufficient to do the calculations required to make the device. It is the complicated use of gears which is surprising. But, given the evidence from ancient times of other devices which were probably similar to the Antikythera Mechanism it is reasonable to conclude that this is no miracle, no evidence of extraterrestrial intervention or anything mysterious. It is evidence of surprising but not shocking sophisitication of the engineering required to build the device.

John Oakes

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