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17 December, 2020 | Blog

By the Light of the Moon: A Lunar Calendar on the Antikythera Mechanism

As a regular reader of the Horological Journal, and avid consumer of all things clock and watchmaking, I’ve come to understand that there are many things about the craft of horology that I simply cannot resist.

I love the precision of those who work with metal. Crafting, bending and cutting until the correct shape, just so, is finally revealed. I love the artistry of horological design, and architecture. What it is that makes certain parts fall into place alongside others with such beauty, that it’s impossible to look away. And I love the science and mathematics underpinning the entire enterprise. The foundational truth that drives the design choices, and guides the art form.

It might not look it, for surely there is no scruffier example than this ancient and corroded lump of bronze! But all that draws me to this craft is perfectly embodied in the device that we have come to know as the Antikythera mechanism.  Delightfully practical engineering, beautiful mathematics, and an excellent standard of workmanship, all marshalled in service to the higher ideal of a mechanised model of the cosmos.

What, though, do we know of the period of its construction? What were the tools of the trade, the techniques, and the training? When and where was this trade knowledge developed? Was it the product of a spectacular, individual outburst of achievement, soon extinguished and forgotten? Or was it part of a longer engineering tradition, developed and passed on from master to apprentice, perhaps within a wider ecosystem of engineering, astronomy, science and art? And what can we know of it today, as distant observers?

Probably, only so much. To the extent that it can though, the mechanism itself speaks to us regarding this possible lost tradition. And as it happens, it also offers up the odd surprise. Which brings me to the subject of this blog post: a new finding regarding the Antikythera Mechanism, suggesting that the front dial calendar ring of the device is most likely to be a lunar calendar.

You can also see a video about it on Clickspring, my YouTube channel.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post, and I do hope you enjoy reading this two part article, presented here ahead of publication in the HJ.

 

Chris Budiselic

Image: David Jones, 2019

 

 

 

 

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