By Mark Harris | NewScientist
Like an underwater Iron Man, a diver will fly around the wreck of an ancient Greek ship later this year, looking to shed light on the Antikythera mechanism
THE world’s most advanced robotic diving suit is getting ready to help search for one of the world’s oldest computers.
Called Exosuit, the suit has a rigid metal humanoid form with Iron Man-like thrusters that enable divers to operate safely down to depths of 300 metres (see photo).
Though designed for diving in the bowels of New York City’s water treatment plants, earlier this month it underwent its first trials in seawater at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts. The tests are readying the suit for a daring attempt to excavate an ancient Roman shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera in the Aegean Sea. A century ago, divers pulled the world’s oldest computer – the Antikythera mechanism – from the wreck. They are hoping that they will find a second device when they go down in September.
Marine archaeologists normally wear scuba gear to explore underwater sites in person, but the time that divers can spend at depth is limited by the dangers of decompression sickness, or the bends. For deep wrecks, researchers rely on remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) carrying cameras and sonar to scan an area, or large and expensive craft like the Alvin submarine that explored the wreck of the Titanic in 1986.
The $1.5 million Exosuit falls somewhere in between. “It’s basically a wearable submarine,” says Phil Short, a diving specialist on the planned mission to Antikythera. “The pressure inside is no different from being in a submarine or in fresh air. We can go straight to the bottom, spend 5 hours there and come straight back to the surface with no decompression.”
“With the Exosuit, our bottom time becomes virtually unlimited,” says Brendan Foley, co-director of field operations at WHOI’s Deep Submergence Laboratory. “Now we can have an archaeologist in the suit for hours, and we’ll only have to come up to answer the call of nature.”
Despite the limitations of earlier expeditions, the treasures that were recovered at Antikythera represent some of the finest ancient Greek and Roman artefacts in existence. They tell the story of a Roman ship that foundered on the rocky shores of the island around 60 BC. The ship was laden with luxury goods, including bronze and marble statues, precious jewellery, a hoard of coins, glassware, ceramic jars – and fragments of a peculiar geared device whose importance was at first overlooked. Only in the 1950s did scholars figure out that the rusty metal pieces could be assembled into a sophisticated analogue computer for predicting astronomical events. They called it the Antikythera mechanism.
Ironically, 2000 years spent in corrosive saltwater may have been the best way to preserve these riches. Most precious objects from antiquity have been broken up or melted down over the millennia. The National Archaeological Museum in Athens has only 10 major bronze statues from Ancient Greece – and nine of them came from shipwrecks.
Foley believes that the Antikythera shipwreck still holds many secrets. A preliminary survey last year showed artefacts scattered over an area 50 metres by 10 metres, and even revealed a previously unknown shipwreck alongside the first one.
“We have feet, arms and the crest of a warrior’s helmet from statues recovered in 1900 – maybe we’ll get lucky and find the rest of them,” says Foley. “But for me, the mechanism is what sets this wreck apart. It’s the questions it opens up about the history of science and technology that fire my imagination.”
Read the full article at: newscientist.com
More than 21 centuries ago, a mechanism of fabulous ingenuity was created in Greece, a device capable of indicating exactly how the sky would look for decades to come — the position of the moon and sun, lunar phases and even eclipses. But this incredible invention would be drowned in the sea and its secret forgotten for two thousand years.
This video is a tribute from Swiss clock-maker Hublot and film-maker Philippe Nicolet to this device, known as the Antikythera Mechanism, or the world’s “first computer”. The fragments of the Mechanism were discovered in 1901 by sponge divers near the island of Antikythera. It is kept since then at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece.
For more than a century, researchers were trying to understand its functions. Since 2005, a pluridisciplinary research team, the “Antikythera Mechanism Research Project”, is studying the Mechanism with the latest high tech available.
The results of this ongoing research has enabled the construction of many models. Amongst them, the unique mechanism of a watch, designed by Hublot as a tribute to the Mechanism, is incorporating the known functions of this mysterious and fascinating ancient Mechanism.
A model of the Antikythera Mechanism, built by the Aristotle University in Greece, together with the mechanism of the watch and this film in 3D are featuring in an exhibition about the Mechanism that is taking place in Paris, at the Musée des Arts et Métiers.
Video from: YouTube.com