Gems from youtube

13. November 2008 18:58
Today I thought I'd highlight a couple of my favourite documentary clips featuring the Antikythera mechanism.

The first is a clip from Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World, from the early 1980s. It features a mysterious ancient pottery jar found in Baghdad, which contained a copper cylinder and an iron rod. Some researchers believe these could have been the components of a 2000-year-old battery - the film shows a fascinating demonstration in which a reconstruction of the battery, powered by grape juice, is used to generate an electric current. The suggestion is that it could have been used for gold-plating jewellery, although as Clarke points out, maybe it was after all just a jar.

Then Clarke gets on to the Antikythera mechanism, and this includes the only footage I've seen of Derek de Solla Price, the British science historian who produced the first major reconstruction of the device in the 1970s. He shows off the first X-ray images ever taken of the Antikythera fragments, and demonstrates a model of the mechanism, although beware that some of the details that Price gleaned from his images have since been shown to be wrong.

The second video is a clip from a documentary shown on the History Channel. There's a cool reconstruction of sponge divers' discovery of the Antikythera wreck in 1900, and of the ancient ship's final journey. The scene where the diver picks up a piece of the Antikythera mechanism from the seabed (looking suspiciously like a bit of cardboard!) is fun, but not how it really happened - when it was brought up it just looked like a lump of rock, and was actually left in a courtyard for months. It wasn't until it cracked open, revealing traces of gearwheels inside, that museum staff realised they were on to something special.

This clip also features Michael Wright, a curator at the Science Museum in London, and his reconstruction of a geared sundial from the Byzantine empire (the second oldest geared device known after the Antikythera mechanism) and Andre Sleeswyk, a professor of applied physics from Gronigen, Holland, who used tips from the Antikythera mechanism to successfully reconstruct a distance meter invented by Archimedes, after even Leonardo da Vinci had failed (basically, make sure your gearwheels have pointed teeth). Enjoy!