Cocktail hour comes around once a day on Cape Cod. Chances are, when Henry Bender, my professor friend from the Hill School in Potts town Pennsylvania, shows up for a glass of wine, we will somehow wander into discussions about antiquities such as the one that triggered a starting place for my novel “Archimedes’ Claw”.
As predictable on a recent visit, the professor made another contribution to my knowledge. “Ted, have you heard of the Antikythera Shipwreck?” He started with a question. Of course I hadn’t and he was there to share the details.
Apparently from sources in a museum in Athens, Greece the Antikythera Shipwreck was discovered in deep waters northwest of the Greek island of Crete. The discovery was made in 1900 by a team of sponge divers. At the time the wreckage was 60 meters down. Many artifacts were immediately taken from the ship including a bronze arm of a statue. Archaeologists worked the site through 1902 until the deaths of several divers occurred from the bends.
One large piece of rock retrieved from the wreckage had a gearwheel embedded in it. This fragment was originally thought to be representative of one of the first mechanized clocks. Subsequent research including gamma-ray imaging revealed it to be the world’s oldest known analog computer. Now known as the “Antikythera Mechanism”.
Rob S Rice, in a paper published in 1995 for the USNA Eleventh Naval History Symposium, speculates that this type of mechanism was a navigational calendar or computer that may have dated to the time of Archimedes. In fact he states in his paper,”The Roman Cicero reports that the General Marcellus prized an orrery, or analog planetarium, of Archimedes’ more than any other booty from the fall of Syracuse”.
Indeed carbon dating from one plank of the hull of the wreck indicates the year 220 B.C.
Later scholars suggest that the real date of origin of the Antikythera mechanism was 87 B.C.Regardless of the origins of this particular artifact the evidence points to a high level of scientific and engineering achievement by the Greek civilization of that time.
In modern times, the famous “Jacques Cousteau recovered Pergamese coins from about 86–67 BC, which with Ephesian coins of 70–60 BC reinforces a view that this had been a treasure ship on its way to Rome including booty from Pergamon (circa 84 BC) after the First Mithradatic War”. The evidence suggests the ship was Roman merchant ship of some 300 tons. It sunk on a well-used trade route from the Eastern to the Western Mediterranean.”The wreck and its contents are consistent with a date of 80–50 BC.”
Timing is everything! Which is one of the themes of my novel Archimedes’ Claw. I look forward to hearing more about antiquities from my colleague and mentor, Henry Bender PhD.
Theodore Morrison Homa MD