The Kosmos in a Box

We call it the Antikythera Device, or sometimes “the world’s oldest computer.” That’s not what the machine’s maker called his box. He would never have wanted it lost in a Roman shipwreck, near the obscure, rocky island of Antikythera.

If that maker saw his high-tech gizmo now, boy, what a comedown. It sank to the bottom of the Mediterranean under a tonnage of pottery, statues, and furniture. It was smashed to pieces. Its stout wooden frame flaked away like wet paper. It was also severely corroded. Fossil dinosaurs have been found in better shape.

Once, there was room to claim that modern ideas about this machine’s complex functions might be far-fetched. However, in 2005 the machine’s fragments were ...

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