History Technology Time

Blowing ancient minds

Over Christmas I watched a lot of episodes of Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World. It’s a fun rattle through famous earthly and not-so-earthly mysteries.

One of the most surprising things I learnt was that the Ancient Greeks made a computer. Yep, a computer!

In 1901, divers near the Greek island of Antikythera found what turned out to be a complicated mechanism for making astronomical calculations – so complicated, in fact, that nothing like it is known to have existed again until the 14th century.

The whole thing is truly extraordinary, and there’s loads of interesting info on the Wikipedia page, the project website, and in an article on Gizmag. One smart guy even built a working replica out of Lego. And it is in Arthur C. Clarke’s show:

What say you?

The thing that interests me most about it is how people of the time might have reacted.

We’re surrounded today by technological wonders – being able to speak to my friends in Rwanda via Skype video always amazes me, never mind being able to go into space or fit millions (billions?) of transistors onto a tiny microchip.

So think how mind-blowing it must have been to see something like the Antikythera machine in action over 2,000 years ago!

Maybe God is great

In 2006 I was living in Germany. In Cologne, where I was based, there is a gigantic cathedral. Construction began in 1248 and although for some reason it wasn’t deemed to have been officially finished until 1840, I expect that it has made quite an impression on everyone who has seen it ever since the very beginning.

It is an imposing, ominous-looking building that towers over everything else in the city. Even today, for someone fairly used to being among skyscrapers, it is remarkable. But imagine seeing this in the Middle Ages when your house and most of the other buildings around were wooden huts, and even the greatest rulers had little more than a castle! Definitely enough to make you believe that there might be something in all this God stuff.

I’m going to keep an eye out for info on how people of the time responded to things like the Antikythera machine and the Cologne Cathedral. There might be an interesting comparison between their reactions and ours.


Cologne Cathedral photo credit: Maurice van Bruggen