back to article By the Rivers of Babylon, where the Antikythera Mechanism laid down

A new analysis of the Antikythera Mechanism, the intriguing meshed gears device hauled from the Aegean in 1900, suggests it may be of Babylonian origin. The Mechanism is engraved in Greek and is widely thought to have been able to track the cycle of the Moon and of both Solar and Lunar eclipses, among other natural phenomena. …

  1. Mr C

    Been in the museum where they have this object

    and i have to say, it is very, VERY impressive if you think of how old it is, and how it was made using the tools and knowledge from 2200 years ago.

    Some brain that was that came up with this wonderful piece of technology.

    You can't help but wonder what mental capacity the people back then possessed without their minds being dulled by the everyday conveniences we have at our disposal today.

    1. Flatpackhamster

      Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

      It's those everyday conveniences that allow us to come up with new inventions. The only way it's possible is for someone to be producing enough of a food surplus to feed someone else who can sit around inventing. You can only invent if you've got time and energy to do it.

      The pace of technological change is directly linked to the amount of leisure time people have, because they don't have to spend all day grinding wheat/herding pigs/digging for coal/washing clothes/etc. By not having to do those things, our minds aren't dulled and are free to mess around inventing hoverboards.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: our minds aren't dulled

        "By not having to do those things, our minds aren't dulled and are free to mess around inventing hoverboards."

        Our minds are free to let Simon Cowell-alikes, sub-reality TV, turn TV into a truly mind-numbing Idiot's Lantern.

        And far far worse.

        "Inform, Educate, Entertain".

        It's what Public Service Broadcasting used to be about.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFJPYi3JXw4 ?

        1. Vociferous

          Re: our minds aren't dulled

          Oh bull. Even, and I do mean EVEN, watching Simon Cowell is more educating than tilling, harvesting and carrying water, which was what the majority of the population spent the waking hours of their lives doing. TV (and teh internets) is the reason the present population is the best educated there's ever been.

          1. Flatpackhamster

            Re: our minds aren't dulled

            Well, quite. We can downvote away about the plebs, safe in our superior cosy metropolitan worldview, but for every couch potato piddling their life away watching Celebrity Glove Island there's someone designing a new type of hinge or testing out website code or simply making life better in a very small way for a small number of people.

            All stuff they couldn't do when 85% of the population worked on the land.

      2. urbanredfox

        Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

        Agreed, but only when education is freely available to all, and inventors are not constrained by patents, IPRs and marketeers.

        As individuals we have no more potential than our ancestors, or to quote Sir Isaac Newton "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants".

        1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

          Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

          to quote Sir Isaac Newton "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants"

          It's thought that by "giants" he may have meant "people taller than Hooke", who quarrelled with Newton and seems to have been short. It's a gratuitous personal slur rather than a lofty philosopical reflection.

          1. Bunbury

            Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

            Newton may well have been trying a dig at Hooke, but the phrase (ironically given the article) comes from Greek mythology. Kedalion was a dwarvish demon who worked at Hephaistos' forge. He was instructed by his master to guide Orion, a hunter who was a giant, to the sun god to have his sight restored. To see the way he clambered onto the shoulder of the giant.

          2. DropBear

            Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

            It's thought that by "giants" he may have meant "people taller than Hooke", who quarrelled with Newton and seems to have been short

            It's also thought that in spite of being widely attributed the Newton in popular culture, the quote itself has basically f###all to do with him specifically, having been first written down at least half a century eariler.

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

      You can't help but wonder what mental capacity the people back then possessed without their minds being dulled by the everyday conveniences we have at our disposal today.

      Slaves. They had slaves. Aristotle apparently was worrying about how hard life would be if the daily problems were not being managed by slaves. He also considered jobs not in the farming or military sectors as unworthy of free men, thus showing a sad lack of understanding of basic economic matters. Not to mention frankly extreme right attitudes. For the frankly nauseating elogy of state control, consult Plato.

      1. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

        Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

        ... For the frankly nauseating elogy (sic) of state control, consult Plato....

        Er...State Control is a LEFT wing Socialist concept. Far Right Wing attitudes are libertarian, and 'social control rejecting'.

        Note that Hitler's party was termed the 'German National Socialist Workers Party'....

        Also, a slave's life was not necessarily a poor one. For 'slave', nowadays read 'contractor paid board and expenses only'...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

          "Note that Hitler's party was termed the 'German National Socialist Workers Party'...."

          And North Korea calls itself a Democratic People's Republic.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

            Indeed. A party is best identified by who its enemies are, not by what it calls itself. Hitler's party persecuted, imprisoned and killed socialists, communists, trade unionists, foreigners, ethnic minorities, homosexuals and the disabled. It was also militaristic, expansionist, racist, and promoted "traditional family values" and gender roles. Does anybody seriously believe that sounds like a left-wing party, regardless of the word "socialist" in the name?

            The reality is that left/right is not a useful way to look at state control. There are statists on the right -- we usually call them Fascists -- as well as the left. And there are individualists on both sides too. On the right we call them libertarians, on the left anarchists.

            Finally, one has to be willfully wrong or selectively ignorant to pretend that libertarians are remotely representative of the majority of right-wingers in the US or Europe.

            1. Flatpackhamster

              Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

              Hitler's party also persecuted, imprisoned and killed fascists and national socialists. Hitler's party killed EVERYONE. It really was the Nobby Nofriends Party.

          2. ravenviz
            Headmaster

            Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

            And North Korea calls itself a Democratic People's Republic

            democracy (n.) noun, a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.

            See, a democracy!

            1. Roj Blake

              Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

              "And North Korea calls itself a Democratic People's Republic

              democracy (n.) noun, a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.

              See, a democracy!"

              Yep, the N Korean system of democracy is sometimes called "one man, one vote" and Kim Jong Un is the one man who has that one vote.

        2. ZanzibarRastapopulous

          Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

          You have a point, but the right was born of support for the aristocracy, or centralised state control by birthright.

          Basically, there are some people who want to control all the other people.

          1. plrndl

            Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

            @ZanzibarRastapopulous

            "Basically, there are some people who want to control all the other people."

            They're called "politicians", or "religious leaders".

        3. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

          Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

          7 thumbs down?

          That touched a nerve! There are a lot of people here who don't understand political theory...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

            @DodgyGezzer

            This site is completely irrational and disproportinate in any response that mentions that subject.

            They don't and never will understand.

          2. Bunbury

            Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

            Thirteen down now. Well you were twisting it a bit weren't you? Generally, Socialism requires the ownership by society in general of key elements of the economy. Of course, the corruption of that ideal often means the state takes over. But plenty of other creeds do the same in practice, so it's skewed to claim that only the lefties do that.

          3. Vociferous

            Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

            > There are a lot of people here who don't understand political theory...

            No, only one: you. You're confusing the change/tradition x-axis of the political diagram with the individualism/collectivism y-axis.

            Communism is change;collectivism, nazism is tradition;collectivism.

          4. Ken Hagan Gold badge

            Re: understanding political theory

            My understanding is that both left and right meet up round the back and screw the little guy from both ends. The traditional view of left-right as a linear spectrum is a viewpoint held only by people lucky enough to have experienced only small values of left or right.

            1. bep

              Yep, it's a horseshoe

              Where you place the gap in the shoe, up, down, left or right, depends on your own political outlook.

          5. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

            There are a lot of people here who don't understand political theory...

            True. There are some who think "left wing" and "right wing" are meaningful terms in contemporary politics, for example, or even meaningful across all of European history.

        4. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

          Far Right Wing attitudes are libertarian, and 'social control rejecting'.

          Mr. DODGY GEEZER of dubious pedigree....

          Don't know if you are trolling or just utterly fecking clueless.

          The Internet is vast. Start reading Mises' "Omnipotent Government" or Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom" as a little warm-up. You can download for free.

          Also, a slave's life was not necessarily a poor one. For 'slave', nowadays read 'contractor paid board and expenses only'...

          AHAHAH. No. Slavery conditions

        5. Roo
          FAIL

          Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

          "Er...State Control is a LEFT wing Socialist concept. Far Right Wing attitudes are libertarian, and 'social control rejecting'."

          Using left and right to characterize political/social policy is pointless. You have no point, and you don't even get a down vote because it would be as pointless as your post. ;)

        6. cray74

          Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

          "Note that Hitler's party was termed the 'German National Socialist Workers Party'...."

          That was a different era in politics with different meaning given to some terms like, "Socialist." Hitler tossed the terms "Socialist" into the party name because it got him votes and because it meant, at the time, something very different than then-leftwing ideologies like Marxism. Once in power, he carried out a right-wing mandate to gut German unions, roll back women's rights, suppress homosexuals, and bust Communists. He wasn't getting support from the liberals in 1920s-1930s Germany (who favored Communists or ineffectual moderate parties). Instead, Hitler's ruling coalition (between the Nazi and Nationalist-Conservatives) was always based on the right and far right. If the following link is TL;DR, then search through it for the term "conservative."

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hitler's_rise_to_power

          Basically, don't judge a book by its title.

        7. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

          Godwin's law on the first reply lol

        8. Martin Budden Bronze badge

          Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

          Godwin called, he'd like everyone to stop losing the argument please.

        9. Marshalltown

          Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

          Dodgy, if you really knew about Libertarian views you would be aware that they are neither right nor left, but instead reside on the extreme anti-statist, anti-authoritarian of the authoritarian spectrum. The right and left both tend to authoritarianism. Left wants you to talk nice, "share" and generally keep your head down. The right wants you talk right, pay your taxes, and generally keep your head down. The only real difference between the left and right is that the right are really concerned about other peoples bed rooms. If you follow American political scandals, the rightwingers run to embarassing, ocassionally criminal (vis the recent indictment of a former Speaker of the House) sexual situations while the left leans to excessively sharing your taxes in biased fashion (embezzlement, bribery, etc.). It's pretty clear Clinton was a Republican plant.

    3. cray74

      Re: Been in the museum where they have this object

      "You can't help but wonder what mental capacity the people back then possessed without their minds being dulled by the everyday conveniences we have at our disposal today."

      Humans are humans. We're always dulling our brain in some way. If we aren't dulling our brains with iPhone apps and recreational pharmaceuticals, then we were using copious amounts of alcohol, short lives, backbreaking labor, and small educated classes to stifle creativity.

      There are advantages to modern civilization when it comes to inventing, and I'm not talking about frills like computer-aided design. Modern humans have an average of double the life time (give or take) of the ancient Greeks, giving more time for individuals to achieve, well, anything. A smaller percentage of modern humans are involved in subsistence farming (vastly smaller in some nations) because productivity in basic survival jobs is much higher, meaning we can support a vastly larger percentage of STEM professionals. Widespread literacy, printing, libraries, and easy access to the accumulated knowledge of mankind allow much greater feats of science and math.

      We might have reality TV and Facebook dulling our inventing, but the ancient Greeks had plenty to hold them back, too.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Origins

    That the Mechanism was found in Greek waters and bears Greek inscriptions does hint at Greek origins

    Or maybe a Greek customer, who ended up complaining to the post office about a very expensive bespoke Babylonian <whateveritwas> disappearing in transit?

    1. TheOtherHobbes

      Re: Origins

      Ordered Flappy Bird clockwork edition, got astrology supercomputer.

      Item not as described. Would not buy again.

  3. Rich 11 Silver badge

    Optional

    There is a real need for someone to invent the chronoscope.

    1. Elmer Phud

      Re: Optional

      There isn't the time to do it.

      1. Omgwtfbbqtime

        Re: Optional

        Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so.

  4. Bunbury

    Dating

    There are some confusing aspects to this find. For example, the pottery from the wreck is from around 80BC. So if the mechanism is actually 120 years older then it would be antique when lost; and increasingly useless as the mechanism is only as accurate as the celestial theories of the day and they were limited.

    Entirely possible that the principles were Babylonian in concept; The Hellenic empire of the Seluecid kings at that time controlled Babylon and had done since Alexander's conquest and Babylon was known thoughout the period for astronomy (three wise men, etc). There's also a precedent for 'borrowing' since the "archimedes screw" water device was used in Babylonia since before Archimedes' birth.

  5. tiger99

    This is seriously interesting. We may be able to discover more....

    All joking apart, I remain seriously impressed by this mechanism, and wonder just how much ancient history we are missing, because it is hard, proven fact that this was made in a period when no such things were assumed to be happening. I am not a historian or archaeologist, but occasionally delight in the work of such experts, so I am hoping that those who research manuscripts and other sources of historical evidence will be able to come up with some references to such stuff, and maybe open a fresh line of investigation into what the ancients actually were able to achieve.

    Work in metal, including brass, copper, iron and bronze, is recorded in the Bible well before this date, but there is no suggestion, as far as I can see, of complex mechanisms.

    It is also apparent to a casual observer that, contrary to what we are generally conditioned to believe, long before acknowledged pioneers such as Marco Polo, there was occasional long distance travel across continents, so despite the Babylonian mathematics, we should not automatically assume that it did not come from much further afield.

    All in all, there is yet much scope for fact-finding by those with the correct skill set. It may even be useful to correlate translations of every ancient manuscript, tablet etc that has been found, and this is where the hacking community, meaning any member of the public with some coding inclination, could make their contribution by doing some good data mining, given freely available translations of everything. That of course depends on the willingness of the custodians of such items, and some are guarded with obsessive secrecy, in the Vatican and elsewhere.

    1. Bunbury

      Re: This is seriously interesting. We may be able to discover more....

      We probably fall into the trap of believing that our current technologies are the only way to get things done, because it's the only way we know about. Previous generations were equally resourceful and inventive, but we have replaced the materials and engineering skills they had with ones that suit us better. Often the knowledge is lost, and we are surprised at discoveries like this. It's only when we get hard evidence of engineering prowess; this device, pyramids, stone circles, etc. that it becomes clear they had considerable skills and capabilities, even if the "how" has been lost.

    2. JacobZ
      Holmes

      Lost in translation?

      I wonder how much information about this mechanism and its predecessors -- and predecessors there must be, something this complex does not emerge fully formed from even the most brilliant inventor and craftsman -- is "hidden in plain sight", in ancient documents that have been mistranslated, because the translators had no idea that such a thing might exist, and therefore entirely missed what we would now recognize as references to it.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Lost in translation?

        15 minutes using "timeline" and GIMP. timeline seriously needs to start exporting PNGs.

        Mechanism in context

        1. Martin Budden Bronze badge
          Headmaster

          Re: Lost in translation?

          Mechanism in context

          Iron was invented?!

          1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

            Re: Lost in translation?

            Never played "civilization"?

            But yes, someone had to come up with the trick of getting smelter fires hot enough....

      2. Filippo

        Re: Lost in translation?

        Some information gets lost in translation, but the vast majority of information about truly ancient times got lost simply because it was never written anywhere. Writing has been costly and impractical for a long time. Of the stuff that was written, the vast majority got destroyed by time. Inscribing stone takes forever, so most things were written on much weaker media that won't last really long except in really favorable conditions. And even stone, if exposed to the weather, gets unreadable eventually. The ancient writings that we have are a vanishingly small fraction of what the ancients had.

        Sad to say, but it could well be that either nobody ever wrote anything about the Antikythera mechanism, or everything that was ever written on it was destroyed long ago.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
          Devil

          Re: Lost in translation?

          There was no paper instruction manual, due to the excessive costs of copying manuscripts.

          Instead a slave was provided with each device, who'd memorised instructions on how to use it. This was called the Portable Didact Format. Unfortunately due to lack of security designed into this system, they all got infected with viruses and became unusuable...

        2. Grikath

          Re: Lost in translation?

          Not really lost in translation, since technology has always been something people, especially those in power, have been really keen on. If anything, things got embellished beyond recognition, even by the otherwise pretty consistent and accurate arab translations of the day.

          Mostly the problem is simply in documents surviving the ravages of time and politics. The things that have survived clearly point to a rather thorough, if empirical, understanding of what we would call technology, and quite a number of people who actively improved on, or re-invented "machines" based on ancient texts. But the general knowledge of this kind of thing has always been an elite occupation, with very little trickling down to practical applications.

          Funny enough, mainly because the major sources were Greek, and their philosophers had *very* distinct ideas about putting things to practical use, since that would sully the pristine...etc... Which makes the Antikythera device unlikely to be greek in origin, and much more likely to be "made in Korea" with an english user interface because well.. that's the global lingue france after all.

        3. Martin Budden Bronze badge

          Re: Lost in translation?

          the vast majority of information about truly ancient times got lost simply because it was never written anywhere. Writing has been costly and impractical for a long time.

          A part of me wishes that were still the case: there'd be no Twitter for a start.

      3. Mephistro Silver badge

        Re: Lost in translation? (@ JacobZ)

        Though I agree with your post, there's also the fact that human knowledge suffers always some kind of entropy. Documents get destroyed, misplaced or lost, the language they were written in vanishes, the science and technologies used get superseded by newer technologies and new scientific paradigms.

        A few months ago, in this same on line publication, there was a public call made to identify lots of ancient electronic kit from Bell Labs (if my memory doesn't fail me). In this context, ancient means less than one century old, from an age with printing presses, telephones and faxes. Most of the information regarding this keep was probably considered obsolete and not worthy enough to be kept.

        And the fact that similar mechanisms haven't been found in every shipwreck or in every astrologuer's den from the period probably implies an economic reason, i.e. a device that needed hundreds of hours of very skilled labour vs. using some astronomical tables and doing some calculations.

        Let's see how much information remains regarding Kurta calculators in, say, two centuries. Or regarding Reciprocating engines.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Lost in translation?

        Book 9 of Vitruvius' “Of Architecture” is stuffed to the gills with astronomical description plus mention of sundials, water-clocks, etc. However, there is an interesting follow-on early in Book 10 (Machines et al.) that sometimes gets overlooked (and which also links directly back to the astronomical description in Book 9):

        Latin

        "omnis autem est machinatio rerum natura procreata ac praeceptrice et magistra mundi versatione instituta. namque animadvertamus primum et aspiciamus continentem solis lunae quinque etiam stellarum naturam, quae ni machinata versarentur, non habuissemus interdum lucem nec fructuum maturitates. cum ergo maiores haec ita esse animadvertissent, e rerum natura sumpserunt exempla et ea imitantes inducti rebus divinis commodas vitae perfecerunt explicationes. itaque comparaverunt, ut essent expeditiora, alia machinis et earum versationibus, nonnulla organis, et ita quae animadverterunt ad usum utilia esse studiis artium institutis, gradatim augenda doctrinis curaverunt."

        English

        "All mechanical contrivance is begotten from the nature of things (i.e. the laws of Nature) and established by the observation and teaching of the universe in motion. For example, let us first pay attention to and consider the continual quality of the Sun, the Moon, and the five [wandering] stars (i.e. planets), which unless they are turned by mechanical moment, we should not have had the alternation of day and night, nor the ripening of fruits. Thus, when our ancestors had realised this to be so, they took their examples from the laws of Nature, and by imitating these, having been led on on by divine facts, they developed mechanical contrivances obliging of life. Therefore, that they (i.e. the examples and contrivances) might be more expeditious, they (i.e. our ancestors) obtained some data [lit. alia = some things] with machines and their turnings, other data [nonnulla = lit. some other things] with organs (i.e. engines), and those things which they thereby discovered to be useful for the purpose of the arts in established studies, they took care to improve step by step by scientific principles."

        (DA, 10.1.4: my own rough translation as modified by reference to the 1914 Harvard University Press Morgan translation – see http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20239/20239-h/29239-h.htm#Page_284)

    3. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: This is seriously interesting. We may be able to discover more....

      "this was made in a period when no such things were assumed to be happening."

      By around the third or fourth century AD, there were toy steam engines. The basics of typewriting/printing are truly ancient.

      But we do keep coming back to the economic and political arguments. The way society was structured, very few people participated in all of this and there was no economic system to let the benefits spread. By the sixth and seventh centuries, rather "inward" (being polite here) ideologies had taken root all over the classical world, the Justinian plague (late edit: that's the virus that infected all those PDF slaves!) had knocked seven barrels out of everyone, and (quite possibly in consequence) the unified society that we call the Roman Empire had been replaced by a few dozen chiefs in military competition with each other.

      The Renaissance is our (at least) second attempt as a species to rise out of the dirt.

      Going back further, there are the Greek Dark Ages, a period about which we've been unable to discover much. To me, that suggests there was quite a bit of darkness in neighbouring states at the same time, so perhaps this was an earlier stumble on the rocky road to modernity.

      And of course there is evidence of urban civilisation going back to 7000 BC or earlier. Who knows how many times small communities really started to get shit moving but were unable to consolidate their position before some small eco-tastrophe or neighbouring thug spoiled everything?

  6. Primus Secundus Tertius

    Knowledge lost

    @Bunbury

    You make a good point that knowledge becomes lost. It happens all the time in the computer industry, as old software and hardware is neglected, and knowledge of them disappears as people retire or move on. Fashionable managerial policies have a lot to answer for.

    Sometimes this is because we become richer, and good ideas become affordable realities. I have commented in other threads that scaled fraction arithmetic has been largely replaced with floating point arithmetic.

    1. Queasy Rider

      Re: Knowledge lost

      I have maintained for many decades that all of the achievements of the last century could have been accomplished before the birth of Christ if it hadn't been for the isolation of various societies from each other, and the constant loss of previously acquired knowledge due to war with its practice of the victor utterly destroying of the vanquished and their city/society, then mother nature stepping in with her natural disasters such as plague, famine, earthquakes etc. I have been utterly amazed by the revelations of ancient documents from the beginnings of writing, only to have been lost and finally rediscovered during the Renaissance and later. Could the Romans have walked on the moon? If all knowledge could have been saved and built upon, my guess is yes.

  7. Keiron

    People back in the day...

    People back then did have brains you know, they were no dumber or intelligent than we are nowadays, we just know a little more, perhaps the had lots of knowledge that has been lost over the years that we only caught up with again in the past few hundred years. Lots of mysteries out there that are probably easily explained if we had the knowledge they had back then. Theres a map that I seem to recall that defies explanation now uhm Piri Reis or something and they must have had some pretty detailed knowledge in order to create a map so accurate under the circumstances in which they would have collected the data for the map.

    1. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

      Re: People back in the day...

      were no dumber or intelligent than we are nowadays

      In fact they might have been more intelligent in some ways. Plato bemoaned the invention of writing thusly:

      For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise.

      Taking modern inventions like Twitter, Facebook and the like in this context, I think it's safe to say that our capacity for maintaining attention and being able to commit details (such as oral histories) to memory are probably much reduced from ancient times. Maybe we make up for it with larger areas of our brains that deal with mapping since we travel much more widely now, but we've got other inventions for that too, namely GPS and sat nav.

      Maybe Idiocracy was right?

      1. bep

        Re: People back in the day...

        We only know Plato said that because it was written down. The invention of writing and later printing was hugely important in the preservation and promulgation of knowledge.

  8. myhandler

    pedantic point to journalist who wrote:

    "...anyone who's watched even the doggrel version of history on offer in 300..."

    firstly the word is doggerel

    secondly it means rough poetry or verse usually comic

    nothing to do with history..

    knowledge gets lost through carelessness as well

    1. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge
      Headmaster

      @myhandler

      If you wanted to be dogmatic, you could argue that the correct word would be "mongrel" since it's of dubious pedigree.

  9. Yugguy

    It's not a computer though

    It's a calculating engine.

    1. love not war
      Headmaster

      Re: It's not a computer though

      From the OED.

      computer, n.

      2. A device or machine for performing or facilitating calculation.

      1. Yugguy

        Re: It's not a computer though

        The OED also defines a computer as "A person who makes calculations, especially with a calculating machine."

        It's not one of them either.

        (;->

        Although to be fair I had always understood the word "computer" to mean something programmable for different tasks, and a calculating engine to be fixed to one task only.

        But I stand corrected.

        1. Bunbury

          Re: It's not a computer though

          "Although to be fair I had always understood the word "computer" to mean something programmable for different tasks"

          That is the subset of computers which are programmable.

          I believe that the provenance of the modern use of the word 'computer' comes from gunnery. The original 'computers' were people who calculated the correct angle of the guns such that a target could be hit. They might have first done this by experience but by WW1 they used gunnery tables and mathematical tools to assist them. As the calculating tools became more complex, the word transferred to the tool.

          Most computers were, effectively single task: calculate a gun angle, multiply figures, etc. However, as they became able to carry out more calculation per hour, it became cost-efficient to use one device to run multiple tasks.

    2. ian 22

      Re: It's not a computer though

      there is thinking that the device is an astronomical calculator used specifically to predict when the games in various Greek city states were to occur.

      A bit like a calculator would be used nowadays to compute the size of a bribe to FIFA needed to buy the location of the next World Cup games.

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