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Science

Recreating a Mysterious, 2,100-Year-Old Clock 209

Posted by Soulskill
from the and-you-thought-modern-gadgets-were-expensive dept.
fergus07 writes "Swiss watchmaker Hublot has created a scaled-down working replica of the ancient Antikythera mechanism. The question is — why on Earth would you want to strap one of these to your wrist? It barely tells the time, and it can't take pictures, tweet or connect to your Facebook. In fact, very few people would have the faintest idea what it is, or why you'd want one at all. But for those that do recognize its intricate gears and dials, this tiny, complex piece of machinery tells a vivid and incredible tale of gigantic scientific upheaval, of adventure and shipwreck on the high seas, of war and death."
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Recreating a Mysterious, 2,100-Year-Old Clock

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  • vanity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by e**(i pi)-1 (462311) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @12:29PM (#38087792) Homepage Journal
    > why on Earth would you want to strap one of these to your wrist Because here on earth, we know vanity and use status symbols to impress?
  • *eyeroll* (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JustAnotherIdiot (1980292) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @12:34PM (#38087844)

    it can't take pictures, tweet or connect to your Facebook.

    Because THAT'S what's important in a watch.

  • The ad I see at the top of the page is for Fossil watches. ;-)
    • They made some cool PDA-watches that ran PalmOS in the early 2000s. I thought about buying one, but I can never come up with a good use for a computer with a screen literally the size of a postage stamp, while I'm already carrying a regular-sized PDA around...

      • by Bucky24 (1943328)
        I had one. It was the coolest thing I owned for a while. Looked ridiculous on my wrist though. I probably still have it somewhere in a box...
    • The ad I see at the top of the page is for Fossil watches. ;-)

      Mother******* Adsense spots, how do they work?

      (in other words, in order to read an article about a fancy watch and NOT seen an ad for a watch or watch-related service, you would need to be living in 1998.)

  • by esocid (946821) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @12:36PM (#38087876) Journal
    Because you can. Obviously.
  • Antikythera in Lego (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 17, 2011 @12:39PM (#38087904)

    Antikythera in Lego [youtube.com]

  • Amazing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @12:39PM (#38087916) Journal

    It's amazing in one respect, and sad in another. The Late Classical Greeks came so close to their own scientific revolution. If it hadn't been for the near culturally fatal effects of the Peloponnesian War, the Greeks may very well have invented science themselves. Can you imagine where we would be now if scientific methodology had fully blossomed 2,300 years ago?

    • Re:Amazing (Score:4, Funny)

      by identity0 (77976) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @12:50PM (#38088048) Journal

      They invented this watch, unfortunately they patented it and drove all competitors out of business before collapsing themselves ;-)

      Thankfully, 2,100 years later their patents and copyrights have expired, so we can open-source it.

      Assuming, of course, Hublot hasn't patented it themselves.

    • Re:Amazing (Score:5, Interesting)

      by alexgieg (948359) <alexgieg@gmail.com> on Thursday November 17, 2011 @12:56PM (#38088154) Homepage

      Way past the distant memory of peak oil and even "post oil"? Not to mention peak- and post- almost everything else industrially useful.

      But that's an incorrect historical take on the matter. To blossom a contemporaneous-like science requires, among other things, an extremely solid logical and mathematical foundation, way past what had been developed back in Ancient Greece, plus a very specific kind of world view that only developed once, under a very specific historical context. The first two aspects were advanced to the point of usefulness only during the three later centuries of (what we now call) the Middle Ages, while the third aspect required two more centuries, building upon the first two aspects. These three simply weren't available at the time.

      What doesn't mean considering the possibility isn't fun. There are some quite nice alternate history fiction on the subject out there.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You might be surprised at the mathematical and logical complexity of ancient Greek thought. The logic gets more press (cf. Aristotle), and the math was sometimes looked down upon as un-philosophic and overly technical, but that doesn't mean that people weren't working on it. Archimedes, for one, is known to have asked complicated questions, and Eratosthenes has not only a prime number algorithm named after him but also managed to invent ways to measure the size of the earth. The rudiments of algebra are

    • by Culture20 (968837)
      The planets would be named Hermes, Aphrodite, Gaia, Ares, Zeus, Cronus, Caelus, Poseidon, and Hades. Not much else would be different, because the Greek empire would have devolved into barbarity just like the roman empire did.
      • Re:Amazing (Score:5, Funny)

        by Rob Riggs (6418) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @01:17PM (#38088446) Homepage Journal
        The Greeks would have known millenia ago that Hades is not a planet!
      • Re:Amazing (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ElectricTurtle (1171201) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @01:47PM (#38088816)
        Roman society was born from and thrived upon 'barbarity' (an ironic description considering it is a term whose Latin etymological origin meant persons/cultures who were not Roman). It was not a devolution, it was the impetus and drive of the culture which led it to a leadership role throughout the Mediterranean world. This cold pragmatism led to things like the rape of the Sabines (which was not some aberrant exception to Roman behavior, marriage rites in the earliest Roman society included ritualized kidnapping and 'free prostitution' {citation: Otto Kiefer's Sexual Life in Ancient Rome, which is not in front of me at the moment so I can't give you a page number}). In order for Rome to achieve and maintain its success it had to actively fight against human rights and equality. It fought several wars against its slaves (the Servile Wars), ruthlessly put down several populist movements (the brothers Gracchus among many, most of which probably had anti-populist ulterior motives in the end anyway), and would decimate any population in revolt.

        Rome fell not because it was brutal (as it always had been), but because it ceased to be. It had built an empire upon exceptionalism and an inhumane disregard for any opposition, and this simply could not be translated to fit the mindset of the early church as it was instituted as the state religion. It would not be until the Crusades that the clergy would succeed in bastardizing Christianity enough that it could be used as an excuse for further military brutality.
        • Re:Amazing (Score:5, Insightful)

          by MightyMartian (840721) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @02:37PM (#38089452) Journal

          The Empire was already in serious decline by the time of the Edict of Milan. You can't really blame Christianity for Rome's failure. A modern understanding reveals that Rome was thumped by the first major wave of invaders out of the Asian Steppe. The economic dislocation, which came before the outright physical disruption (ie. the Huns) were too much for the Roman economy to bear. This was an Empire basically kept together through massive military spending, and thus the underlying economy had to be strong, but as that was shaken, Rome basically entered an age of reaction, rather than action, and blow after blow took it out down. Everything Rome did from that point on; Diocletian's reforms, debasement of the currency, conversion to Christianity, the filling of the Legions with German tribesmen of dubious loyalty, all amounted to stop-gate measures.

          Not that I'm defending Christianity, being an atheist myself, but I just find blaming Christianity for the failure is really a matter of putting the cart before the horse.

          • Re:Amazing (Score:4, Interesting)

            by ElectricTurtle (1171201) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @04:25PM (#38090688)
            The Edict of Milan neither established Christianity as the state religion nor did a mark a turning point in the empire's status. The demarcation comes when Theodosius I establishes Christianity as the religion of the state, and by the way, the borders of the empire from Diocletian to Theodosius I are largely the same. It is, in fact, only after Theodosius and the sea change in Roman civic life with regard to religion that the empire itself begins to shrink. Cases can be made for systemic weakness at just about any time in Rome's history.

            You also have your history quite backward. The Huns were not an active pressure upon Rome until after its Christianization. When the Edict of Milan granted religious tolerance (not establishment), the Hunic Empire didn't even exist. By Theodosius I's time, it had barely managed to tame it's barbarian neighbors and still posed no direct threat to Rome. That came much later.

            So while there's a certain argument for correlation doesn't equal causation, the real decline of the empire did occur *after* the Christianization. Lots of seeds were sewn before then, both systemically and by some very poor decisions. As an example of the latter, the carrot of Romanization, Roman citizenship, was devalued to nothing by a double blow under Caracalla. First, it was made universal to all free men in the territories. Second, Caracalla got butthurt by the Alexandrians' mockery of him and order thousands of them slaughtered, which, if they were now truly full Roman citizens, inexcusably violated the basic tenet that no Roman citizen could be executed without trial. Roman citizenship was no longer something anybody had to seek, nor was it anything somebody would want.

            Rome could have persisted through the barbarians' rise if it would have worked with them instead of being delusional about its superiority. Alaric I who sacked Rome was in fact part of Theodosius' legions (what a coincidence, the emperor who established Christianity...), and was a mercenary for Rome until Honorius betrayed him and his Roman handler Flavius Stilicho. Because Rome broke its promise to pay Alaric and his men, and purged many mercenaries and their families whose survivors clamored to Alaric to lead them in revenge, he did so. If Rome had given the deference Alaric had asked for and not persecuted other foederati, the Western Roman Empire might have been stable enough to resist the Hunic hordes. Hypothetically.

            Either way, the important point hear is that you have your history very backwards. The most significant pressures from barbarians and the Huns specifically undeniably followed, not preceded, the establishment of Christianity within the Roman Empire.
        • Re:Amazing (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Luyseyal (3154) <swaters@luLIONy.info minus cat> on Thursday November 17, 2011 @03:46PM (#38090224) Homepage

          Another commentator mentioned the economic aspect. I won't repeat what s/he said but I did want to add that the Roman economy was largely predicated on conquering territories to generate tax revenue. Why? Because the Senate had voted to exempt themselves from all taxation. As they gained more and more land, it generated less money for the treasury necessitating conquering more people.

          -l

          P.s., I don't have a citation right now.

          • by Bucky24 (1943328)
            Reminds me strikingly of another country in more modern times...
          • by swb (14022)

            IIRC, it was worse than just tax revenues.

            Conquered land was what was given to soldiers as their payment. So you needed an army to conquer land, so you conquered the land and gave it to the soldiers. Now you have more land to guard, so you need a bigger army, so you need to conquer more land, so you can give it to the soldiers, and now you have more land to guard...

            Economic expansion was built on conquering foreign lands, and Europe west of Rhine is a limited amount of room, even by horse-and-cart standa

    • by JoshuaZ (1134087)
      The Peloponnesian War was not the only thing that was relevant. Keep in mind that Thales was of all the ancient Greek thinkers very arguably the one who was closest to the scientific method (in terms of combining both empirical observation and rational thinking). And Thales was one of the first. So whatever prevented a scientific revolution it was probably more subtle than that.
    • Re:Amazing (Score:5, Interesting)

      by InfiniteZero (587028) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @01:12PM (#38088366)

      Well the Peloponnesian War predates this clock by about 300 years...

      But the ancient Greeks indeed came so close to the scientific and industrial revolution that it makes a fascinating fiction of alternative history. For example they even had working steam engine and railway around the same time period of the clock:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeolipile [wikipedia.org]
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diolkos [wikipedia.org]

    • by Tablizer (95088)

      Slavery is another reason. There was no need to automate because they had slaves. It was a double-edged sword: slaves freed-up enough people to ponder the universe, but it also meant less value in automation. Greeks excelled at "thought science", but not so much at empirical science that required rolling up your sleeves.

    • by bodland (522967)
      Yes and thankfully the rise of Christianity's mysticism in the western world...that pretty much guaranteed a large portion of humanity would maintain a firm distrust of science...to this day.
      • Re:Amazing (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mister_dave (1613441) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @03:11PM (#38089762)

        Not true. The church sponsored scientific discovery. In a world created by God, the laws of nature are God's laws, and worthy of study.

        The adjective 'medieval' is now a synonym for superstition and ignorance. Yet without the work of medieval scholars there could have been no Galileo, no Newton and no Scientific Revolution. In "God's Philosophers", James Hannam traces the neglected roots of modern science in the medieval world. He debunks many of the myths about the Middle Ages, showing that medieval people did not think the earth was flat, nor did Columbus 'prove' that it is a sphere. Contrary to common belief, the Inquisition burnt nobody for their science, nor was Copernicus afraid of persecution. No Pope tried to ban human dissection or the number zero. On the contrary, as Hannam reveals, the Middle Ages gave rise to staggering achievements in both science and technology: for instance, spectacles and the mechanical clock were both invented in thirteenth-century Europe. Ideas from the Far East, like printing, gunpowder and the compass, were taken further by Europeans than the Chinese had imagined possible. The compass helped Columbus to discover the New World in 1492 while printing allowed an incredible 20 million books to be produced in the first 50 years after Gutenberg published his Bible in 1455. And Hannam argues that scientific progress was often made thanks to, rather than in spite of, the influence of Christianity. Charting an epic journey through six centuries of history, "God's Philosophers" brings back to light the discoveries of neglected geniuses like John Buridan, Nicole Oresme and Thomas Bradwardine, as well as putting into context the contributions of more familiar figures like Roger Bacon, William of Ockham and St Thomas Aquinas. Besides being a thrilling history of a period of surprising invention and innovation, "God's Philosophers" reveals the debt modern science and technology owe to the supposedly 'dark' ages of medieval Europe.

        http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gods-Philosophers-Medieval-Foundations-Science/dp/1848311508/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1321560353&sr=1-1 [amazon.co.uk]

        http://jameshannam.com/ [jameshannam.com]

        • by Bucky24 (1943328)
          Well yes... But any scientist who found proof of something against God's laws was generally killed as a heretic. Such as the earth going around the sun...
    • by Lumpy (12016)

      Nothing would have happened.

      They needed all the modern tools such as heavy slave labor and better knowledge of metals such as aluminum, titanium, or even high carbon steel. Science achieved on the back of regular people that figured things out. The first high carbon steel swords were not made by scientists that were thinking about it. they were made by a uneducated swordsmith who had worked in a dirty forge for all his life.

      Science rides on the backs of the common man.

      • I totally agree. My grandfather was farming in his field one day when he found some TCP/IP protocol seeds. Then a wily, young travelling salesman named Albertius Gohr came around and stole them. They never found out what happened to those seeds or where that nefarious vagabond vanished to. I suppose we'll never know. Just imagine what could have been grown from those seeds!
      • by heikkile (111814)

        The first high carbon steel swords were not made by scientists that were thinking about it. they were made by a uneducated swordsmith who had worked in a dirty forge for all his life.

        More likely, for three or four generations, if not more.

      • by Max_W (812974)

        This worker could have well be a curious weekend scientist. Talent is born in about the same rate among all layers of society.

        He could find books in a monastery. And it is not unimaginable a that he could learn to read from someone.

    • You are mistaken, they did have a "scientific revolution" the Greek world extended beyond Greece, look into the extended sphere of Greek culture, I would suggest that Syracuse on the Island of Sicily Alexandria in Egypt and all of the extended influence of Hellenism well into Roman times and it was the heavy hand of Roman bureaucratic interference and Stoic philosophy that finally brought it to a standstill!

      The things we know about are too numerous to put here, the number we have never even heard about are

  • by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Thursday November 17, 2011 @12:40PM (#38087928) Homepage Journal

    It was such a technological leap that no doubt the "History" channel has already run a series of "documentaries" showing how it was built by aliens.

    It's funny because its true.

  • by hackertourist (2202674) <hackertouristNO@SPAMxmsnet.nl> on Thursday November 17, 2011 @12:44PM (#38087978)

    is a kit to build a working replica of the mechanism.

  • RepRap Map needed (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 17, 2011 @12:44PM (#38087982)

    If it can be done in LEGO, surely we can create the RepRap CAD files to make one?

  • You can't have one (Score:5, Informative)

    by Crudely_Indecent (739699) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @12:47PM (#38088026) Journal

    Per TFA:

    The watch is a concept piece only, and will be presented at the Baselworld watch show in 2012.

    Maybe if enough people begged, they might make a production run.

    I wouldn't mind having one, but I'm not holding my breath.

    • You do know this watch would not cost under 5 digits right? I wouldn't be surprised if they charged $30k for it.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 17, 2011 @01:23PM (#38088530)

        What are you? Part of the 99%?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You're off by about two orders of magnitude. Check the price of the much less complicated Patek Celestial [jomashop.com]. Hublot sells watches for six digits that only tell the time.

        • Oh holy shit 8-(

          And I thought the $30k watches were crazy...

        • by Abstrackt (609015) *

          There's one thing about that watch that really bothers me: it's only water resistant to 25M (~82ft). If you're going to try selling me a watch that costs more than I make in a year I'd better be able to drop that fucking thing in a volcano before it breaks.

          • The one I'm wearing now is water resistant to 50M and my less-formal watch is water resistant to 200M and also shock resistant, and it tells me the time and date with nice big letters and has an EL backlight. Together they're less than $200.

            Fools and their money...

        • by Luyseyal (3154)

          Haha awesome -- and they only provide a 2 year warranty. You would think that for 6 figures they could eke out a lifetime warranty...

          -l

  • Because you can (Score:5, Insightful)

    by djl4570 (801529) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @12:57PM (#38088166) Journal
    "why on Earth would you want to strap one of these to your wrist?" Because it's twenty percent cooler than a Rolex.
  • by sconeu (64226) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @12:58PM (#38088178) Homepage Journal

    to your wrist?

    It's obvious! So that you're ready for when the evil Kythera Mechanism shows up!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 17, 2011 @01:00PM (#38088212)

    If you have to ask "Why?" when talking about this project, I pity your lack of intelligence and creativity.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 17, 2011 @01:04PM (#38088262)

    A lot of nerds simply don't get horology. They'll consider hand-crafted masterpieces as "junk" that your el-cheapo thinkgeek-powered watch renders useless...

    But not all nerds are like that: quite some of them also recognize true craftmanship and fine horology when they see some. I do certainly see the appeal of such a watch for people into pure mechanical watches...

  • Really cool ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @01:12PM (#38088376) Homepage

    So I'm suddenly imagining an alternate "steam punk" timeline in which we had mechanisms and gears 2000 years ago. It's always amazing to see what was really known back that far.

    That's absolutely cool.

    As someone with a lot of watches, that Hublot wrist watch is a really cool timepiece. A skeleton watch with 2000 years of history to it.

    Though, as other people have pointed out, I bet this would cost a pretty penny.

    • So I'm suddenly imagining an alternate "steam punk" timeline in which we had mechanisms and gears 2000 years ago. It's always amazing to see what was really known back that far.

      Turns out it's actually mechanisms and gears, which means it's not so alternate.

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        Turns out it's actually mechanisms and gears, which means it's not so alternate.

        Funny, but I meant where they had been in continuous usage for all of that time. Not something which got lost and only rediscovered "recently" (by historical measures).

        But if we'd had clockworks gears for 2000 years, I can only imagine how many cool things would have been invented centuries ago.

    • Re:Really cool ... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @02:25PM (#38089320) Homepage

      Just imagine what we lost when the idiot Christians burned the Library of Alexandria.
      Just imagine how much was lost in ideas because if stupid laws or traditions in a certain islam bible.
      Just imagine how many scientists were killed in early society in general because their ideas or understanding was greater than some monarch, and we cant have that!

      Humanity has gone out of it's way to destroy knowledge in the name of hating change. Organized political Religion (Catholic church, Radical Islam, Moonies, David Koresh, Church of the Latter Day saints, Scientology, etc....) is simply a powerful tool to help spread hate and control. None of these religions have ANY use other than to keep certain people in power and rich at the expense of others.

      Knowledge levels the playing field, therefore heads of powerful organizations go out of their way to SQUASH knowledge as it threatens their power and might.

      Not all religion does this, but the ones that have a few that benefit greatly over the control of a large group of followers does.

      • The Library of Alexandria, at least the most famous iteration was burned in a Roman siege 48BC (according to Plutach), 45 years before the birth of Jesus. If you are blaming this on Theophilus (who was a bad man in his own right), then it is only recorded that he destroyed idols where some of the surviving scrolls may of been held, it would require quite a large leap of speculation to blame the destruction of the library here.
  • by leftover (210560) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @01:36PM (#38088686) Homepage

    Chuckle at the "made by aliens" silliness as we all do, there really is a mystery to this device.
    Archimedes was more than brilliant enough to work out the math for this orrery, also to work out the design for gear tooth profiles. He had the position and influence to have access to materials and the best crafts-people of the time. But how did they actually build that thing?
    In theory an astonishingly good watchmaker could hand-file all those gears. In practice, I'm not so sure. Gears are finicky things, every single tooth must have the correct angular position, pitch diamerter and involute profile. A gear can look very pretty but simply not work with another gear. (I have made several such.) If you don't believe it, just go to a hardware store, buy a riffler file kit and some brass washers, then have at it. No microscope, no computer, no plotter. Any tools you hypothesize have to be built using the same starting conditions. It will be an educational experience. One of your observations will be that you can not see well enough to get the profile to adequately match the math for two gears to mesh smoothly.
    So the greatest mystery, for me, is: How did they make the measurements required for this work?

    • by geekoid (135745)

      "Gears are finicky things, every single tooth must have the correct angular position, pitch diamerter and involute profile"

      no. The more accurate those things are, the better it measurs time. And this think wasn't very accurate. By today's standards.

      "No microscope, no computer, no plotter." Modern tool might be dampening you imagination.

      Can I use math, and pencil and a ruler? Then using that get a master gear maker to make them? because that's probably how it was designed.

      Or even better: Imagine making a wat

      • by heikkile (111814)

        "Gears are finicky things, every single tooth must have the correct angular position, pitch diamerter and involute profile"

        no. The more accurate those things are, the better it measurs time. And this think wasn't very accurate. By today's standards.

        As far as I know, the original machine was not meant to measure time. It had a crank you gave one turn every day, and it showed the position of various stars etc. More like a calendar than a clock.

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      IF a man in the same time was able to draw a perfect circle, I guarantee that they could figure out how to draw the figures to map out simple gears that do not need to mesh tightly. this was a hand cranked device that moved pointers, excessive lash would not be a problem.

  • don't ruin the plot of the next dan brown book/ the next nicholas cage national treasure movie

    this sort of speculation does not belong in the halls of science. it belongs rightly in the realm of populist lowest common denominator pulp fiction with paranoid conspiracy theories studded throughout

  • by tverbeek (457094) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @02:47PM (#38089560) Homepage
    I'd like to take the person responsible for the first image out and punch him in the nose, for using Greek look-alike letters as substitutes for Latin letters. Using a Lambda as a capital A or a Sigma as a capital E is the worst form of international illiteracy.
  • The "l" in "clock" didn't register with my eyes as the title of this post moved down my screen...wow...

  • It's really annoying how so many slashdot summaries these days are plagiarized directly from TFA. (I'm assuming that fergus07 is not the same person as Loz Blain.) Cutting and pasting withour giving proper attribution to the author is plagiarism.

    An even more pathetic example was this one [slashdot.org], which was, ironically, about academic dishonesty.

    And let's say for the sake of argument that fergus07 *is* the same person as Loz Blain, and "an anonymous reader" *is* the same person as Kirk Klocke; then they should revea

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