The Antikythera Mechanism

Its Dating and Place in the History of Technology


  • Nicholas David University of Calgary



Antikythera mechanism, gears, Greece, Hellenistic period, history of astronomy, history of technology


Recent interpretive analysis of the astronomical calculator known as the Antikythera mechanism (AKM), the oldest geared instrument in the world, reveals that the astronomy it embodies is of the third to second century bc. The device has no known precursor and is more complicated than any surviving mechanism from the following millennium. Its apparent uniqueness stems from a failure to embed the device in the society, economy and technology of its time. After summarizing the circumstances of its recovery from a shipwreck in 1900–1901, subsequent excavations and the curation and analyses of associated materials through the 1950s, I turn to recent research. Studies of coins and ceramics from the wreck indicate that the freighter transporting the AKM foundered at some point between 70 and 50 bc. Meanwhile analyses of inscriptions on the device and other evidence link it to the Corinthian sphere of influence and suggest a date between 129 and 75 bc. Review of the literary and material history of astronomical devices and geared machinery of the period 100 bc–500 ad reveals relatives, but nothing comparable to the AKM in its range of functions. Yet it is not a Machina ex Deo. Archaeologists are encouraged to recover and analyze more evidence of the tradition it undoubtedly represents. Intensive research into the mode of production and the social, economic, technical and material aspects of the bronze and brass industries of the first millennia bc and ad is required.

Author Biography

Nicholas David, University of Calgary

Nicholas David is Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at the University of Calgary. An Africanist and ethnoarchaeologist, he directed the Mandara Archaeological Project from 1984 to 2008. He is the author of Performance and Agency: The DGB Sites of Northern Cameroon (Archaeopress, 2008), editor of Metals in Mandara Mountains Society and Culture (Africa World Press, 2012) and, with Carol Kramer, co-author of Ethnoarchaeology in Action (Cambridge University Press, 2001).



How to Cite

David, N. (2017). The Antikythera Mechanism: Its Dating and Place in the History of Technology. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, 30(1), 85–104.