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Eclipse Prediction on the Ancient Greek Astronomical Calculating Machine Known as the Antikythera Mechanism

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The ancient Greek astronomical calculating machine, known as the Antikythera Mechanism, predicted eclipses, based on the 223-lunar month Saros cycle. Eclipses are indicated on a four-turn spiral Saros Dial by glyphs, which describe type and time of eclipse and include alphabetical index letters, referring to solar eclipse inscriptions. These include Index Letter Groups, describing shared eclipse characteristics. The grouping and ordering of the index letters, the organization of the inscriptions and the eclipse times have previously been unsolved. A new reading and interpretation of data from the back plate of the Antikythera Mechanism, including the glyphs, the index letters and the eclipse inscriptions, has resulted in substantial changes to previously published work. Based on these new readings, two arithmetical models are presented here that explain the complete eclipse prediction scheme. The first model solves the glyph distribution, the grouping and anomalous ordering of the index letters and the structure of the inscriptions. It also implies the existence of lost lunar eclipse inscriptions. The second model closely matches the glyph times and explains the four-turn spiral of the Saros Dial. Together, these models imply a surprisingly early epoch for the Antikythera Mechanism. The ancient Greeks built a machine that can predict, for many years ahead, not only eclipses but also a remarkable array of their characteristics, such as directions of obscuration, magnitude, colour, angular diameter of the Moon, relationship with the Moon's node and eclipse time. It was not entirely accurate, but it was an astonishing achievement for its era.
The 223-lunar month Saros Dial. Red text is traced from data; blue reconstructed from context; green is uncertain. Eclipse predictionsstrictly speaking predictions of eclipse possibilities (EPs) [1]-are specified by glyphs, numbered by their month round the dial [4]: two examples are inset. S for SELGNG (the goddess of the Moon) indicates a lunar eclipse; G for GLIOS (the god of the Sun) a solar eclipse. In Glyph 137, G under M, denoted by H \M , means GMERAS (of the day): a lunar eclipse during the day, which is therefore not visible. In other glyphs N under U, denoted by N \U , means NYKTOS (of the night): a solar eclipse during the night, which is therefore not visible. The eclipse time follows, with a ligature of v and r, abbreviating vra (hour), followed by a letter for a number of hours [4]. At the bottom of the glyphs are index letters in alphabetic order, using two alphabets, plus three additional symbols. This alphabetic ordering previously established [4] that there were fewer solar than lunar eclipse predictions. The index letters in the glyphs reference inscriptions to the right of the dial, where the same index letters appear in groups, which are underlined in white and have white line numbers. These Index Letter Groups all reference solar eclipse inscriptions (Table S1). They are written in a perplexing non-alphabetic ordering. Conjectural inscriptions (in yellow) and conjectural Index Letter Groups (in blue) are predicted by the Eclipse Year Model (EYM). Inside the Saros Dial is the subsidiary Exeligmos Dial, which adds eight hours to the eclipse times for successive Saros periods [4]. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0103275.g004
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Eclipse Prediction on the Ancient Greek Astronomical
Calculating Machine Known as the Antikythera
Mechanism
Tony Freeth
1,2
*
1 Antikythera Mechanism Research Project, South Ealing, London, United Kingdom, 2 Images First Ltd, South Ealing, London, United Kingdom
Abstract
The ancient Greek astronomical calculating machine, known as the Antikythera Mechanism, predicted eclipses, based on the
223-lunar month Saros cycle. Eclipses are indicated on a four-turn spiral Saros Dial by glyphs, which describe type and time
of eclipse and include alphabetical index letters, referring to solar eclipse inscriptions. These include Index Letter Groups,
describing shared eclipse characteristics. The grouping and ordering of the index letters, the organization of the inscriptions
and the eclipse times have previously been unsolved. A new reading and interpretation of data from the back plate of the
Antikythera Mechanism, including the glyphs, the index letters and the eclipse inscriptions, has resulted in substantial
changes to previously published work. Based on these new readings, two arithmetical models are presented here that
explain the complete eclipse prediction scheme. The first model solves the glyph distribution, the grouping and anomalous
ordering of the index letters and the structure of the inscriptions. It also implies the existence of lost lunar eclipse
inscriptions. The second model closely matches the glyph times and explains the four-turn spiral of the Saros Dial. Together,
these models imply a surprisingly early epoch for the Antikythera Mechanism. The ancient Greeks built a machine that can
predict, for many years ahead, not only eclipses but also a remarkable array of their characteristics, such as directions of
obscuration, magnitude, colour, angular diameter of the Moon, relationship with the Moon’s node and eclipse time. It was not
entirely accurate, but it was an astonishing achievement for its era.
Citation: Freeth T (2014) Eclipse Prediction on the Ancient Greek Astronomical Calculating Machine Known as the Antikythera Mechanism. PLoS ONE 9(7):
e103275. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0103275
Editor: Luis M. Rocha, Indiana University, United States of America
Received January 30, 2014; Accepted June 4, 2014; Published July 30, 2014
Copyright: ß 2014 Tony Freeth. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits
unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Funding: The author has no support or funding to report.
Competing Interests: The author is Managing Director of Images First Ltd, a film and television production company, and is an employee of this company. The
author’s academic research is carried out entirely independently of the company’s commercial interests. In particular, there are no conflicts of interest in terms of
employment, consultancy, patents, products in development or marketed products etc. The author’s role in Images First Ltd in no way alters adherence to PLOS
ONE policies on sharing data and materials. Images First Ltd does not own any rights regarding the Antikythera data.
* Email: tony@images-first.com
Introduction
In the autumn of 2005, a major data gathering operation on the
Antikythera Mechanism was carried out by an Anglo-Greek team
of academics in collaboration with the National Archaeological
Museum in Athens and two advanced technology companies [1].
Figure 1 shows the surviving remains of the Antikythera
Mechanism, which are now split into 82 fragments [1]. They
are conserved in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens,
Greece. Two new investigative techniques were used in 2005 on
all the fragments of the Mechanism. Polynomial Texture Mapping
(PTM) [2], now sometimes called Reflectance Transformation
Imaging (RTI), is a technique for looking at fine surface details.
Microfocus X-ray Computed Tomography (X-ray CT) [3] produces
high-resolution 3D X-rays using a very small X-ray source. For
details of these techniques, see Materials and Methods.
Figure 2 shows PTM and X-ray CT data. The PTM data was
expected to show new details of inscriptions on the surfaces of the
fragments and the X-ray CT data to reveal the internal structure
of the gearing. However, both techniques have contributed to
many of the new discoveries about the structure, functions and
inscriptions on the Antikythera Mechanism [1], [4], [5]. One
surprising revelation was that the X-ray CT uncovered new scale
divisions as well as several thousand new text characters, hidden
within the fragments and entirely invisible either to visual
inspection or the previous generation of 2D X-rays [6].
The new data resulted in a sequence of major discoveries on the
Antikythera Mechanism [1], [4], [5] with an underlying theme: its
design was a highly ingenious fusion of ancient Babylonian and
Greek mathematical astronomy. A computer reconstruction in
Figure 3 shows the resulting instrument. In this research article, it
is shown how mathematical concepts also underlie the eclipse
prediction scheme on the Antikythera Mechanism.
The data that is important for this study all come from the lower
half of the back plate of the Antikythera Mechanism, witnessed by
fragments A, E and F (Figure 1, Figure S3). It was the scale
divisions on the lower back dial, shown by these three fragments,
which led to the discovery of eclipse prediction [1]. A new
interpretation of the inscriptions on the lower half of the back plate
of the Mechanism is given here. These are traced in Figure 4. A
full analysis is given in Note S2.
Suppose a user of the Antikythera Mechanism wants to check
eclipse predictions for a particular month some years ahead. The
user winds the Mechanism forwards to the desired date, as shown
on one of its calendars [1], [4], [7]. In Figure 4, the Mechanism’s
gearing [1] has turned the Saros Dial pointer to Month 78, where
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Glyph 78 shows a predicted solar eclipse at the first hour after
dawn. At the bottom of the glyph is an index letter, T. The user
finds T in Line 36 at the bottom right of the Saros Dial: the first of
five in this Index Letter Group. Above Line 36, six lines of
inscription describe the characteristics of the eclipse: directions,
magnitude and colour (Note S2). What are the organizing
principles of the glyph distribution and the Index Letter Groups?
Why are the index letters in a perplexing non-alphabetic order?
What is the overall structure of the eclipse inscriptions? How were
the eclipse times determined? Here it is shown that these long-
unexplained issues can be solved by two arithmetic models with
significant consequences.
Materials and Methods
This study is about the structure of eclipse prediction on the
Antikythera Mechanism. Much of the relevant data comes from
highly fragmentary inscriptions on the back plate, which are often
very hard to decipher. Two techniques were used in the 2005
investigations [1]. PTM [2] combines many digital images, lit from
different directions, with computer software (Figure 5 (A)–(G)).
This gives the facility to interactively re-light a surface as well as
the ability to factor out confusions of colour and texture to reveal
essential surface details. A range of filters, such as specular
enhancement, diffuse gain and unsharp masking, enable the data
to be visualized for maximum character recognition. X-ray CT [3]
projects images of the sample from many different angles onto an
X-ray detector. These are then combined mathematically into a
3D X-ray volume. X-ray CT viewing software, for example,
VGStudio Max (Volume Graphics), enables both 3D volumes as
well as single ‘‘slices’’ at any angle through the volume to be
isolated and analyzed.
To enable the reconstruction of the text shown in Figure 5,
more than a hundred X-ray CT slices were exported as image
stacks into Photoshop (Adobe) to enable the decipherment of the
text. Together with PTMs, these enabled the surviving inscriptions
to be traced using a digitizing tablet. The text characters are on
average 1.6 mm high, with average line spacing of 2.5 mm. This is
tiny text and the small size creates problems reading many of the
characters, though it is remarkable how much has been preserved
after 2,000 years under water. The quality of the X-ray CT data is
variable between fragments. The X-ray technique involves
projection of the sample from a microfocus X-ray source onto a
2D detector [3]. To fill the detector, the smaller fragments can be
geometrically magnified to a greater degree than the larger
fragments: so the resulting 3D X-ray volumes have inherently
higher resolution. The resolution for Fragment E was 46 microns;
for Fragment F 64 microns; and for Fragment A 101 microns
(Scan 5). The highest resolution scan of Fragment A (Scan 6, 54
microns) was seriously compromised by a technical problem
during data acquisition, whereby about 27 projections (out of
2,957) failed to record. There is also evidence that the fragment
moved during the scan. Attempts to rectify these problems have
only been partially successful. The difficulty with lack of resolution
Figure 1. PTM of the seven lettered fragments A–G of the Antikythera Mechanism. The fragments of the Antikythera Mechanism as seen
from both sides. In addition to the seven lettered fragments A–G, there are also seventy-five small fragments 1–75. The fragments are seen here using
Polynomial Texture Mapping (PTM) [2], with specular enhancement, which emphasizes small surface details.
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of the X-ray CT of Fragment A can be seen in Figure 5 (E). There
have been considerable advances in X-ray CT technology since
2005, so it would be of great advantage to gather new X-ray CT
data on the Antikythera Mechanism: there is much that cannot be
read from the current data and X-ray CT has been developing
rapidly in recent years.
Some characters are easy to read. For those that are not, many
X-ray CT slices, just a few tens of microns apart, are often useful.
A character sometimes appears to change as the slices are scrolled
through–for example, from L to D to A to part of M. It is often
difficult to get a definitive interpretation, since many random
marks often confuse the text.
Another aspect, which is sometimes helpful, is that much of the
text is overlain with an accretion layer that also includes text
information. The text was engraved into bronze: the accretion
layer must have built up gradually on the surface, moulding itself
to the form of the text letters and finally concreting into a hard
deposit over time [1]. This has created a cast of the original
engraved surface. The effect of the accretion layer on scrolling
through X-ray CT slices is illustrated in Figure 5 (G) and (H). The
text characters first appear as black on grey, Figure 5 (G)–black
showing where the engraving tool has removed the metal, so there
is an absence of X-ray density; then as white or light grey on dark
grey, Figure 5 (H), where the X-ray CT slice intersects the cast of
the same text characters in the accretion layer. In places the
accretion layer has survived better than the original engraving.
The advantage can be seen in reading the third character in the
top row of the text: in the direct engraving in Figure 5 (G) this
character is hard to read; in the accretion layer image in Figure 5
(H) it is evidently B. In many cases the accretion layer has become
detached and slightly displaced from its original position, as seen in
Figure 5 (I). In the case of the back cover inscription, Figure 5 (D),
most of the original text has been lost and all that is left is the
accretion layer, which was deposited onto Fragments A and B and
only survives as mirror text on their surfaces [1], [6].
The Antikythera Mechanism is conserved in the National
Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece (http://www.
namuseum.gr/collections/bronze/ellinistiki/ellinistiki06-en.html;
Accession Number X 15087). Full data from the 2005 investiga-
tions can be accessed by application to the Antikythera Mecha-
nism Research Project (http://www.antikythera-mechanism.gr/).
All necessary permits for these investigations were obtained from the
Central Archaeological Council in Greece.
Results
Glyph distribution
Basic properties and definitions concerning eclipses as well as
the underlying cyclic parameters of the Antikythera Mechanism
can be found in Note S1. Previous research proposed a
mathematical model for the distribution of the glyphs round the
Saros Dial, which was consistent with the alphabetic index letters
[4]. However, this model could not have been easily calculated in
ancient Greece and it needed to be calibrated from a lunar eclipse
210 lunar months (nearly 17 years) earlier: so it was not really
plausible. The first model presented here does not suffer from
these problems. Like the earlier model, it uses principles of
closeness to node and the asymmetry of observability of solar eclipses
(Note S1), but it is much simpler to calculate. It solves the
distribution of the glyphs, the Index Letter Groups and the
structure of the inscriptions. A key concept is the eclipse year (Note
S1), so the first model will be called the Eclipse Year Model, EYM.
In each Saros period, there are 223 lunar months and 19 eclipse
years (Note S1). In Figure 6 and Figure S9, each eclipse year is
Figure 2. Examples of data gathered in 2005 on the Antikythera Mechanism. (A) Polynomial Texture Mapping (PTM) with specular
enhancement [2]. (B) High-resolution Microfocus X-ray Computed Tomography (X-ray CT) [3].
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lined up exactly below the preceding one. To accomplish this,
each lunar month is divided into 38 units, called Eclipse Year units
(EYu), each representing 0.78 days. There is a precedent in
dividing the synodic month into artificial units in the Babylonian
division of the month into 30 tithis [9]. However, the author has
found no classical sources with evidence that EYu were used in
ancient times. One source describes ancient Chinese lunar
astronomy by Liu Hong in c. 200 AD [10], which used a table
with units that are 1/19
th
of a du, which is a Chinese degree,
where there are 365.25 du in a full circle. The following theory
could equally well be expressed in terms of the number of days or
degrees that the Moon is from its nodes, without any reference to
EYu. However, this approach would carry an unnecessary
constant in all the calculations, both complicating the arithmetic
and obscuring the very economic and coherent basis for the
theory.
The definition of EYu means that each eclipse year has 446
EYu and the distance between the node points is 223 EYu. EYM is
defined entirely using integers. In Figure 6, the positions of the n
th
Full Moon (FM
n
) and n
th
New Moon (NM
n
) in EYu from the start
of the eclipse year are 38(n-1)+17 (mod 446) and 38(n-1)+36 (mod
446)–both easy to calculate for the ancient Greeks. A key issue is
the positions of the node points (Note S1). The observed glyphs
give initial estimates, with lunar glyphs a better guide than solar
glyphs, since they are not affected by asymmetry (Note S1): the
average position at the first node is 64.2 EYu and at the second is
289.7 EYu (Table S2). For EYM, the difference should be 223
EYu, so these must be modified. Trial-and-error finally deter-
mined 66 EYu and 289 EYu as the figures that generate all the
data. EYM creates a glyph if it is sufficiently close to the nearest
node point in EYu, within the following limits:
A lunar glyph: if Full Moon is #20 EYu from the node point.
A solar glyph: if New Moon is #20 EYu from the node point,
if North of the node.
#7 EYu from the node point, if South of the node.
These limits were determined by trial-and-error so that the
model fits the data. To decide whether the first node point is
Ascending or Descending, the asymmetry of the solar glyphs is
exploited. By calculation, Glyph 13 is 46 EYu from the start of the
eclipse year, in other words, 20 EYu before the node point at 66
EYu. So it must be North of the node: otherwise it would have
been excluded by the asymmetrical criterion for solar glyphs. So
the first node point must be the Descending Node Point (DNP)
(Note S1). Closeness to node is not the same as Closeness to node
point, since the node point is defined when the Sun is at the
Moon’s node, not when the Sun is at a nearby eclipse. However,
these two concepts are related by a constant multiple of
235
/223
(Note S3). So EYM is defined by Closeness to node point to
preserve simple integer calculations. One additional factor must be
added to EYM: the consecutive month rule excludes a second lunar
eclipse prediction in the same month. Such eclipses are nearly
always penumbral and were never included in Babylonian eclipse
prediction schemes [8].
Figure 3. Exploded computer reconstruction of the Antikythera Mechanism. On the left, the front plate includes zodiac and calendar dials
[6] and a conjectural reconstruction of the ancient Greek Cosmos [5]. In the middle is an exploded reconstruction of the gears. The input contrate gear
is in the centre, with a keyway to turn the Mechanism. The planetary gearing at the front is conjectural [5], but the gearing behind the main plate for
the lunar anomaly mechanism and the back dials is now firmly established [1], [6]. On the upper right is the 19-year Metonic calendar dial [1], [4], [7]
and on the lower right, the 223-month Saros eclipse prediction dial [1].
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EYM generates glyphs, which match the alphabetical index
letters (Figure 6, Figure S10). There are 51 glyphs, with 38
predictions of lunar eclipses and 28 predictions of solar eclipses. It
only differs from a previous model [4] in that Glyph 149 is S, G in
EYM, whereas it is S-only in the old model. The pattern of lunar
glyphs generated by EYM conforms to the 8-7-8-7-8- pattern of
Babylonian eclipse prediction schemes [8] (Note S1). Surprisingly
the solar glyphs are a subset of the non-Babylonian pattern 8-8-8-
7-7-, a feature shared by the old model [4], though not apparently
noticed when this was published.
Figure 4. The 223-lunar month Saros Dial. Red text is traced from data; blue reconstructed from context; green is uncertain. Eclipse predictions–
strictly speaking predictions of eclipse possibilities (EPs) [1]–are specified by glyphs, numbered by their month round the dial [4]: two examples are
inset. S for SELGNG (the goddess of the Moon) indicates a lunar eclipse; G for GLIOS (the god of the Sun) a solar eclipse. In Glyph 137, G under M,
denoted by H
\M
, means GMERAS (of the day): a lunar eclipse during the day, which is therefore not visible. In other glyphs N under U, denoted by
N
\U
, means NYKTOS (of the night): a solar eclipse during the night, which is therefore not visible. The eclipse time follows, with a ligature of v and r,
abbreviating vra (hour), followed by a letter for a number of hours [4]. At the bottom of the glyphs are index letters in alphabetic order, using two
alphabets, plus three additional symbols. This alphabetic ordering previously established [4] that there were fewer solar than lunar eclipse
predictions. The index letters in the glyphs reference inscriptions to the right of the dial, where the same index letters appear in groups, which are
underlined in white and have white line numbers. These Index Letter Groups all reference solar eclipse inscriptions (Table S1). They are written in a
perplexing non-alphabetic ordering. Conjectural inscriptions (in yellow) and conjectural Index Letter Groups (in blue) are predicted by the Eclipse Year
Model (EYM). Inside the Saros Dial is the subsidiary Exeligmos Dial, which adds eight hours to the eclipse times for successive Saros periods [4].
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0103275.g004
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Index Letter Groups
There are four surviving Index Letter Groups (Figure 4). Here
they are considerably revised and augmented from previously
published versions: full details of their Interpretation from the data
are in Figure S6. In the following, each group is preceded by Its
line number; BOLD is traced from the data, REGULAR is
reconstructed from the context and ITALICS is uncertain.
L. 9: N
1
, L
2
, B
1
, W
2
L. 18: F
1
, H
1
, S
2
, R
1
, X
1
L. 29: 2, P
2
, K
1
, F
2
, W
1
L. 36: T
1
, G
2
, H
1
, R
2
, Y
2
Figure 5. Inscriptions data from the back plate. (A) Fragment A, PTM of back plate with specular enhancement. (B) Fragment A, PTM of back
plate with diffuse gain. (C) Fragment A, PTM of back plate with specular enhancement. (D) Fragment A, PTM of impression of back cover with
luminance unsharp masking. (E) Fragment A, X-ray CT slice of back plate. (F) Fragment F, X-ray CT slice of back plate. (G) Fragment E, X-ray CT slice of
back plate. (H) Fragment E, X-ray CT slice of accretion layer. (I) Fragment E, orthogonal X-ray CT slice of back plate and accretion layer.
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All the index letters in these groups refer to glyphs that include a
solar eclipse prediction; less than half also include a lunar eclipse
prediction (Table S1). So these Index Letter Groups refer to solar
eclipses and the corresponding lines of inscription describe shared
characteristics of solar eclipses. The grouping of the index letters
and their ordering within each group have been long-term
unsolved problems. Here it is shown how a solution is provided by
EYM. The essential idea is to calculate each eclipse prediction’s
distance in EYu North or South of the node point and then list the
North eclipses followed by the South eclipses in descending
distance order.
As shown in Figure 7, EYM reconstructs the observed Index
Letter Groups and implies the existence of two further lost Index
Letter Groups. EYM establishes that the eclipse inscriptions were
inscribed round the dial in descending order from their furthest
distance North of the node to their furthest distance South. It is
striking that the re-ordered EPs alternate between Ascending and
Descending node and the NP EYu figures form an exactly linear
ordering. The underlying reason for these patterns is that the
positions of the New Moons in EYu within the eclipse year form a
complete set of odd numbers from 1–445 (with no two being
equal), because of their mathematical definition (Note S3).
EYM has a flaw: S
2
is in the right L.18 Group but in the wrong
place within the group. S
2
is the first letter according to EYM but
the evidence shows that it is not the first and is almost certainly the
third letter, between H
2
and R
1
(Figure S6). All the rest of the data
fit exactly with EYM, so this is surely evidence of a mistake.
Closeness to node point can be regarded as a surrogate measure for
ecliptic latitude (Note S3). So an Index Letter Group defined by
EYM is essentially a band of ecliptic latitude, analogous to a clima
in ancient geography–with the frame of reference being the
ecliptic plane, not the equator. To understand the eclipse
characteristics grouped by the Index Letters, it is necessary to
decipher the inscriptions round the Saros Dial.
The eclipse inscriptions
A full epigraphic interpretation and analysis of the inscriptions
by Dr Charles Crowther (Oxford University) is included in Note
S2. The following is based on his interpretation of the data.
The inscriptions, which are traced and interpreted in Figure 8,
have a repetitive pattern, with directions , magnitude and colour for
each group. It was argued in a publication of 1974 [6] that the
directions refer to winds, though it was not understood at that early
stage that the dial predicted eclipses. This idea has persisted,
though it is argued here that they must refer not to winds but to
directions of obscuration of eclipses (Note S2). It must be said that
the whole scheme does not work well for solar eclipses: for a total
solar eclipse, both directions of obscuration and magnitude are
critically dependent not only on the Moon’s ecliptic latitude but
also on the location of the observer relative to the path of totality.
Colour is rarely observed or recorded for solar eclipses in ancient
or modern astronomy. The system works much better for lunar
eclipses, since their visibility and characteristics are not dependent
on the location of the observer. The same mathematical exercise
that derived the solar Index Letter Groups can also generate lunar
Index Letter Groups (Figure S11): the difference being that they
are symmetrical relative to North and South (Note S3). All the
observed glyphs have index letters, yet twenty-one of these glyphs
are lunar-only. There was no point in indexing these if there were
no associated lunar eclipse inscriptions: nearly a whole alphabet of
Figure 6. Detail of spreadsheets showing EYM. (A) Part of a spreadsheet (shown in full in Figure S9) illustrating how EYM maps syzygies onto
eclipse years. EYM is based on mean months. Each month is divided into 38 EYu. The 19 eclipse years are numbered on the left, with 446 EYu in each
eclipse year. Eclipses are clustered in eclipse seasons around the node points: here at the Descending Node Point (DNP) (Note S1). Observed glyphs are
in bright blue for lunar and bright orange for solar; glyphs reconstructed by EYM in paler colours; observed index letters in red; index letters
reconstructed by EYM in blue. The two alphabets of index letters are distinguished here by subscripts, though the original index letters were
distinguished by bars on the second alphabet. The superimposed Saros Dial shows how glyphs are mapped onto eclipse years. The grey vertical line
is the DNP at 66 EYu from the Saros start. The blue dotted line is one side of the symmetrical limits for lunar glyphs; the orange dotted lines are the
asymmetrical limits for solar glyphs as well as the lunar limit North of the node, as described in the text. Months start at First Crescent Moon (Note S1),
2 EYu (1.55 days) after New Moon. Full Moon is at 17 EYu from the start of each Month; and New Moon at 36 EYu. (B) Part of a spreadsheet (shown in
full in Figure S10), which calculates the glyphs generated by EYM, with index letter; EYu from eclipse year start; Descending or Ascending node; North or
South of the node; EYu from node point.
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index letters could have been saved. This argument alone is
enough to establish the strong likelihood of lunar Index Letter
Groups and associated inscriptions. All the characteristics work
better for lunar eclipses: ecliptic latitude is a reasonable indicator
of both directions of obscuration and magnitude (Note S2); lunar
eclipse colour was often recorded in antiquity (Note S2). It appears
that the lunar eclipse inscriptions were conceived first and the
dysfunctional solar eclipse inscriptions added for completeness.
Plausible inscriptions could be reconstructed for all the conjectural
lunar Index Letter Groups.
With no room round the Saros Dial, the only possible place for
lunar eclipse inscriptions is round the Metonic Dial, where the
plate has only survived for a few millimetres beyond the dial itself:
so the direct evidence is lost. Figure 9 shows how they fit neatly
here. The geometry of the spiral dials means that there is more
room on the left of the Metonic Dial than on the right, so the
reconstruction includes four Index Letter groups on the left and
three on the right.
All the evidence [1], [4], [5] suggests that the designer of the
Antikythera Mechanism wanted to create a complete machine–an
astronomical compendium that would answer all predictive
questions within the scope of the astronomy of the time. Though
there is no direct evidence, the arguments that the Antikythera
Mechanism also included lunar eclipse inscriptions are compelling.
They would also provide a satisfying mathematical completeness
to this instrument of mathematical astronomy.
Predicted eclipse times
Each glyph on the Antikythera Mechanism includes a predicted
eclipse time in hours. A previous paper [4] concluded that, ‘‘… the
process of generation of glyph times was not sound and may remain
obscure.’’ Counteracting this pessimism, a model is described here,
derived from Babylonian System B [9], [11], which closely matches
the glyph times. A re-examination of previous readings of the data
[4] resulted in crucial modifications to several glyph times (Figure
S14, Note S4, Table S3). The essential difficulty of modelling the
eclipse times is as follows: if the time of FM
1
is given, calculating
the time of FM
n
involves adding the sum of all previous variable
month lengths (Figure S15). After many unproductive attempts
with epicyclic models [1] and Babylonian System B models based
on daily increments [9], [11], [12], another type of System B
model was found to be successful (Note S4). This calculates the
synodic month length much more simply from zigzag functions,
dependent only on the phases of the lunar and solar anomalies at
the end of each month [9], [11]. The Babylonian data is uncertain:
the solar contribution to month length appears to have been
calculated from second-order differences, generating piecewise-
parabolic arcs [11], [13] (Note S4). Since these have not proved to
be more successful than linear zigzags, the ZigZag Model (ZZM)
described here uses only linear zigzags. There are two types of
variable input parameter: parameters tied to the astronomy are the
minima and maxima of the zigzag functions, which define the
month lengths and can only be altered slightly before a good fit
with actual month lengths breaks down (Figure S15); free
parameters are the phases of the lunar and solar anomalies at
Figure 7. Generation by EYM of the Index Letter Groups. EYM’s predictions North of the node are first arranged in month order, including:
month number, index letter, EYu from eclipse year start, Ascending or Descending node and EYu from node point (NP EYu). Similarly for predictions At the
node/South of the node, with a negative sign attached to their NP EYu to match their negative ecliptic latitude (Note S1). They are then re-ordered by
EYu from node point in descending order. This generates the observed Index Letter Groups (in red) and the ordering of the letters within each group
(with one exception). It also shows how EYM completes the picture with two conjectural solar Index Letter Groups (in black).
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0103275.g007
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FM
1
and the input times of FM
1
and NM
1
, which can be chosen
freely to optimize ZZM.
Figure 10. shows the results of optimizing the free input
parameters. The optimal value of the lunar anomaly occurs at a
sharp minimum where the lunar apogee,L
apo
=FM
1
(Figure 10
(B)), strongly supporting a previous proposal [4] that each
quadrant of the Saros Dial was synchronized with the Full Moon
Cycle (Note S5): at each eclipse, the position of the Saros pointer
within each quadrant tells the user the angular diameter of Full
Moon, which is at a minimum at the start of the quadrant and
reaches a maximum in the middle. The inverse is true for New
Moons (Note S5). A central solar eclipse should be total if it is
Figure 8. The solar eclipse inscriptions. (A) Text that is traced from the data is in red; text reconstructed from the context in blue; uncertain text
in green. The Index Letter Groups, underlined in white and with white line numbers, refer to the lines of inscription above them. (B) Transcription
using Leiden conventions. (C) Translation.
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Figure 9. Conjectural arrangement of back plate inscriptions. This uses the same colour conventions as described in the legend for Figure 9.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0103275.g009
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predicted by a glyph near the cardinal points of the Saros Dial and
annular near the intercardinal points, with hybrid eclipses between
these regions. Figure S21 (C) shows that a ‘‘matching’’ sequence
(Figure S19) of actual solar eclipses [14] strongly supports this
design.
EYM and ZZM put constraints on the possible start dates for
the Saros Dial. EYM establishes the DNP as 66 EYu after the dial
start and ZZM adds the condition that L
apo
=FM
1
. Calculated
ephemerides [14] determine that there are only eight matching
start dates from 250 BC to 1 BC (Table S5), a period that almost
certainly includes the epoch of the Mechanism (Note S5). Also
optimizing ZZM is the solar anomaly at 346 days before FM
1
.
This equates to the ecliptic longitude of the mean Sun at FM
1
being 46.53u (Note S5). The only matching date is FM
1
at-204
May-12 (Table S5), when the mean Sun was at 46.75u: all the
other dates are more than 10u wrong, reflecting an underlying flaw
in the glyph time system (Table S4). This surprisingly early date for
the Saros Dial has been suggested previously, using conflicting
methods (Evans, J., Carman, C. C. On the Epoch of the Antikythera
Mechanism, Workshop presentation, Leiden, 2013.) The result
here should be treated with due caution, since ZZM is not an exact
model, though all variants of the model considered to date share
the same optimizing parameters. Further modifications may
eventually lead to an exact model but the key input parameters
are not expected to change. In addition, it should not necessarily
be inferred that the date of the Antikythera Mechanism is the same
as the date for which the Saros Dial was designed. The
Mechanism could, for example, have been made at a later date.
The new epigraphic analysis of the eclipse inscriptions presented
here (Note S2) is fully consistent with 205 BC, though there is still
debate about the relevance of some comparanda from the
Athenian palaeographical tradition from the Hellenistic period
(Note S2).
To make predictions, ZZM must be synchronized with both a
lunar and a solar eclipse before the start of the dial (Note S5).
Suitable eclipses are the total lunar eclipse of -207 Feb-16 19:14
UT and the partial solar eclipse of -206 Jul-17 15:50 UT [14], as
established in Note S5 and shown in Table S6 (A). Whether or not
these give a match to the data depends on the local time of their
observation: in other words the longitude of the Mechanism’s
intended use. A good candidate region for this is Epiros in
Northwestern Greece [4], [16] (UT+1.3 hours). For this region,
the errors in these eclipse times for optimizing ZZM are only 2
16 minutes for the lunar eclipse and +5 minutes for the solar
eclipse, as described in Note S5 and shown in Table S6 (B).
Figure 10. The ZigZag model, ZZM. (A) Detail of spreadsheet (described in Note S4), showing the first few rows of calculation out of 223, with
parameters optimized and final errors rounded to whole numbers. The graphs at the top show the generated month lengths and the graphs in the
middle show the close match of the model with the glyph times, with a lunar rms error of 1.4 hours and a solar rms error of 1.9 hours, giving a total
rms error of 1.7 hours. The apparently large errors in the fifth and tenth solar times are much smaller than they seem, since the clock distance error is
the relevant measure (Note S4). (B) Optimization of the solar anomaly parameter: rms error of model times vs glyph times, dependent on solar
anomaly, with lunar anomaly fixed when lunar apogee,L
apo
=FM
1
. Optimal value is 346 days before solar apogee,S
apo
. (C) Optimization of the lunar
anomaly parameter: rms error of model times vs glyph times, dependent on lunar anomaly, with solar anomaly fixed at 346 days before S
apo
. Optimal
value is at zero when L
apo
=FM
1
.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0103275.g010
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Figure 11. Computer reconstruction of the Saros and Exeligmos Dials.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0103275.g011
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Conclusions
An epoch for the Antikythera Mechanism in 205 BC brings it
close to the life of Archimedes, who was killed in the siege of
Syracuse in Sicily in 212 BC. It is known from the writings of
Cicero that Archimedes built a machine just like the Antikythera
Mechanism [6]:
‘‘… the famous Sicilian had been endowed with greater
genius than one would imagine it possible for a human being
to possess… this… globe… on which were delineated the
motions of the sun and moon and of those five stars which are
called wanderers… (the five planets)… Archimedes… had
thought out a way to represent accurately by a single device
for turning the globe those various and divergent movements
with their different rates of speed…’’
Cicero, De re publica, 54–51 BC
It also brings the Antikythera Mechanism close to Apollonios of
Perga, who died in about 190 BC. He initiated the epicyclic
theories [15] on which the lunar and (very likely) the planetary
mechanisms were based [5]. It would be purely speculative to
suggest that the Antikythera Mechanism owed its design to the
greatest mathematician and scientist from ancient times, Archi-
medes, in collaboration with one of the greatest mathematicians
and geometers, Apollonios of Perga. The historical record is so
fragmentary that it could have been made by an unknown genius,
with knowledge of the mathematical astronomy of the era, who
made one of the greatest technological advances of all time, yet has
left no known trace on history–except the Antikythera Mechanism!
The author has found it very productive to view the Antikythera
Mechanism from his own academic background as a mathema-
tician. Though subjective, this perspective, emphasizing the idea
that the Antikythera Mechanism was essentially a mathematician’s
instrument, has proved very successful in discovering its structure
and functions. Its Earth-Sun-Moon system has a brilliant design,
based on two great arithmetic cycles from ancient Babylon and the
beautiful geometric theory of lunar motion from ancient Greece
[1]. The mechanism that calculates the lunar phases is an exquisite
and economic differential design [17]. The likely incorporation of
the planets into the Antikythera Mechanism was almost certainly
based on arithmetic period relations from Babylon and virtuoso
epicyclic mechanisms to follow variable motions, just like the lunar
anomaly mechanism [5]. The design of the upper Metonic
calendar dial, with its five-turn spiral of 235 lunar months and 110
excluded days, is a highly ingenious concept [4].
Figure 11 shows a computer reconstruction of the Saros and
Exeligmos Dials and associated solar eclipse inscriptions. The
mathematical basis of the Antikythera Mechanism is further
underlined by this research article, with its eclipse prediction
scheme based on the four-turn geometry of the Saros Dial and
synchronized with the Full Moon Cycle. It was driven by the Saros
cycle–a surprising arithmetic resonance between three orbital
periods of the Moon. It was designed using whole number
arithmetic, which was highly regarded in ancient Greece [18] as
well as the remarkable arithmetic prediction schemes of ancient
Babylon [8], [9], [11]. The Antikythera Mechanism was an
inspired synthesis of arithmetic and geometry as well as of
Babylonian and Greek scientific cultures. It was a brilliant
mathematician’s creation.
The main text is enhanced with notes, some of which include
supplementary references. Note S2 includes additional references
[19], [20], [21], [22], [23], [24], [25]. Note S3 includes additional
references [26], [27], [28]. Note S4 includes additional references
[29], [30], [31], [32], [33], [34], [35], [36], [37].
Supporting Information
Figure S1 The eclipse paths of nine solar Saros repeats.
(PDF)
Figure S2 Total solar eclipse diagrams.
(PDF)
Figure S3 The Saros Dial, superimposed on X-ray data
of Fragments A, E and F.
(PDF)
Figure S4 The published inscriptions round the Saros
Dial.
(PDF)
Figure S5 Tracing of the back plate inscriptions.
(PDF)
Figure S6 Data and interpretation for Index Letter
Groups.
(PDF)
Figure S7 Comparative inscription on stone from
Hellenistic Corinth.
(PDF)
Figure S8 Possible definitions of directions of obscura-
tion.
(PDF)
Figure S9 The Saros Dial divided into eclipse years.
(PDF)
Figure S10 The glyphs that are automatically generated
by EYM.
(PDF)
Figure S11 Spreadsheet generating the lunar Index
Letter Groups according to EYM.
(PDF)
Figure S12 Graphic of Total lunar eclipse of 2011 Jun-
15.
(PDF)
Figure S13 Glyph data and its interpretation.
(PDF)
Figure S14 Data for questioned glyph times.
(PDF)
Figure S15 Actual month lengths vs ZZM month
lengths.
(PDF)
Figure S16 Graphics showing ZZM.
(PDF)
Figure S17 Excel spreadsheet that calculates ZZM with
arbitrary input parameters.
(PDF)
Figure S18 Lunar eclipses for matching sequence
beginning-04 May-12.
(PDF)
Figure S19 Solar eclipse paths for matching sequence
beginning-204 May-12.
(PDF)
Eclipse Prediction on the Antikythera Mechanism
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Figure S20 Theoretical EYu vs Actual gamma for
sequence starting-204 May-12.
(PDF)
Figure S21 The Saros Dial and the Full Moon Cycle.
(PDF)
Tables S1 The observed index letter groups and
corresponding glyphs.
(PDF)
Tables S2 The positions of the observed glyphs on the
Saros Dial.
(PDF)
Tables S3 Eclipse times in the glyphs.
(PDF)
Tables S4 Comparison between eclipse times one Saros
apart.
(PDF)
Tables S5 Astronomical parameters at possible start
dates for the Saros Dial.
(PDF)
Tables S6 Possible synchronizing eclipses and times.
(PDF)
Note S1 Eclipses & Predictions.
(PDF)
Note S2 Eclipse Inscriptions.
(PDF)
Note S3 Eclipse Year Model, EYM.
(PDF)
Note S4 Glyph Times.
(PDF)
Note S5 Astronomy & Epoch.
(PDF)
Acknowledgments
I am particularly indebted to C. Crowther for his epigraphic input: to R.
Gautschy, M. Ossendrijver, J. Evans and C. C. Carman for supplying data
and research papers; and to X. Moussas for his support. I would like to
thank F. Espenak, who created and maintains the NASA/GSFC eclipse
website. Many thanks to the staff of the National Archaeological Museum
in Athens, T. Malzbender and his team of imaging experts from Hewlett-
Packard, R. Hadland and his team of X-ray specialists from X-Tek
Systems (now part of Nikon Metrology), and all in the Antikythera
Mechanism Research Project, who were part of the data gathering team in
2005. This article is partly based on data processed, with permission, from
the archive of experimental investigations by the Antikythera Mechanism
Research Project (Freeth et al. 2006 [1]) in collaboration with the National
Archaeological Museum of Athens. The data gathering and subsequent
analysis, on which this current research depends, received essential funding
from the Leverhulme Trust, the Walter Hudson Bequest, the University of
Athens Research Committee, the National Bank of Greece Cultural
Foundation, the J. F. Costopoulos Foundation and the A. G. Leventis
Foundation.
Author Contributions
Conceived and designed the experiments: TF. Performed the experiments:
TF. Analyzed the data: TF. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools:
TF. Wrote the paper: TF. Figures: TF.
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Eclipse Prediction on the Antikythera Mechanism
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... Extant systems account for 35 gears behind b1 (Supplementary Table S8 The Dragon Hand indicates eclipses by its closeness to the true Sun pointer at New or Full Moon. Closenessto-node defines the sophisticated eclipse prediction scheme on the Antikythera Mechanism 8,23 , with symmetrical limits for lunar eclipses; and asymmetrical limits for solar eclipses, according to whether the Moon is North or South of the node 8,23 . These wider and narrower limits are indicated by triangles on the true Sun ring. ...
... These wider and narrower limits are indicated by triangles on the true Sun ring. When the Dragon Hand is within the relevant limits, an eclipse prediction glyph can be found on the Saros Dial, with eclipse characteristics listed in the eclipse inscriptions 8,23,24 . If the Dragon Hand is within the wider limits, an eclipse season 23 is in progress-occurring twice each eclipse year, shown by a full rotation of the Sun relative to the Dragon Hand. ...
... As a rule, formulaic and repetitive inscriptions in the Antikythera Mechanism are indexed to their dials: for example, Parapegma inscriptions to the Zodiac Dial 1,2,7,25 and eclipse inscriptions to the Saros Dial 8,12,23 . For each planet, its synodic events-maximum elongations, stationary points, conjunctions and oppositions-occur when the planet is at a characteristic angle from the Sun. ...
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The Antikythera Mechanism, an ancient Greek astronomical calculator, has challenged researchers since its discovery in 1901. Now split into 82 fragments, only a third of the original survives, including 30 corroded bronze gearwheels. Microfocus X-ray Computed Tomography (X-ray CT) in 2005 decoded the structure of the rear of the machine but the front remained largely unresolved. X-ray CT also revealed inscriptions describing the motions of the Sun, Moon and all five planets known in antiquity and how they were displayed at the front as an ancient Greek Cosmos. Inscriptions specifying complex planetary periods forced new thinking on the mechanization of this Cosmos, but no previous reconstruction has come close to matching the data. Our discoveries lead to a new model, satisfying and explaining the evidence. Solving this complex 3D puzzle reveals a creation of genius—combining cycles from Babylonian astronomy, mathematics from Plato’s Academy and ancient Greek astronomical theories.
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... It should be noted here that Crowther's (Freeth 2014, Note S2) preference for the earlier dating relies heavily upon the form Ζ for zeta. This form is found on Rhodes at ILindos 2.309 and 2.311, both securely dated to, or shortly after, Zenodotos' priesthood of Athena Lindia in 64/3 bc. ...
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... The most recent investigators of the device are the members of the Antikythera Mecha nism Research Project (AMRP), originally led by Tony Freeth and Mike Edmunds and comprising three teams from the United Kingdom, Greece, and North America. Freeth has published on his own (e.g., Freeth, 2014), and indeed one of the best introductions to the Mechanism and what it tells us is provided in a remarkable lecture that Freeth gave at the Stanford Humanities Center in 2016. This provides, towards the end, a stunning virtual reconstruction of the Mechanism, which has the added advantage of placing the known fragments in their appropriate positions. ...
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The Antikythera Mechanism – an astronomical calculating machine – is considered by some to be the earliest analogue computer. _____________________________________________________________________________________ Navigation News, November/December 2020, Royal Institute of Navigation, London, UK, https://rin.org.uk/default.aspx
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Resumo O Mecanismo de Antikythera é uma máquina composta por um intrincado sistema de engrenagens de bronze capaz de prever posições celestes, fases da Lua, eclipses e calcular calendários. Encontrado em 1901 por mergulhadores em uma embarcação romana naufragada na ilha de Antikythera junto de inúmeros artefatos arqueológicos, sua construção é estimada em 205 AEC. O objetivo e funcionamento do Mecanismo só começaram a ser entendidos a partir da segunda metade do século XX e revelaram uma elevada sofisticação técnica, surpreendente para a época em que foi construído. O objetivo do presente artigo é investigar o princípio de funcionamento do Mecanismo de Antikythera por meio de um estudo teórico de artigos publicados sobre a máquina, evidenciando as possibilidades interdisciplinares para sua utilização no Ensino e na Divulgação da Astronomia. PALAVRAS-CHAVE: Mecanismo de Antikythera, Astronomia, Ensino de Astronomia. Resumen El Mecanismo de Anticitera es una máquina compuesta por un intrincado sistema de engranajes de bronce capaz de predecir posiciones celestes, fases lunares, eclipses y calcular calendarios. Encontrado en 1901 por buzos en un barco romano destrozado en la isla de Antikythera junto con numerosos artefactos arqueológicos, su construcción se estima en 205 a. C. El propósito y el funcionamiento del Mecanismo solo comenzaron a entenderse a partir de la segunda mitad del siglo XX y revelaron una alta sofisticación técnica, sorprendente para el momento en que se construyó. El objetivo de este artículo es investigar el principio de funcionamiento del Mecanismo de Anticitera mediante un estudio teórico de artículos publicados en la máquina, destacando las posibilidades interdisciplinarias para su uso en la Enseñanza y la Difusión de la Astronomía. PALABRAS CLAVE: Mecanismo de Anticitera, Astronomía, Enseñanza de la Astronomía. Abstract The Antikythera Mechanism is a machine made with a complex gears system enable previewer celestial positions, lunar phases, eclipses and calculate calendars. It was found in 1901 by divers in a wrecked roman ship in the Antikythera island with many archeological artefacts, and it age is estimated in 205 BCE. The mechanism's functions started understandig in second half XX century, showing high technical sofistications for antiquity.
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