Greek "Computer" Tracked Ancient Olympics, Other Games

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Further investigation found the place names of the three other great sporting events—Isthmia (Kórinthos, or Corinth), Pythia (Delphi) and Olympia—inscribed around a four-part dial.

The British Museum's Judith Swaddling, author of The Ancient Olympic Games, is unaffiliated with the Antikythera mechanism research group. She called the discovery of the so-called Olympiad dial fascinating.

"The major Greek games were arranged so that there was at least one each year, and there were many minor meets, too," she said.

"Greek life very much revolved around sport—hence scenes from sporting events were depicted on drinking cups and other vessels associated with banqueting and would have been a hot topic of conversation."

The games were also closely linked to Greek mythology, with legends of victorious heroes or kings tied to their foundations.

"The fact that all games were held in honor of a god [such as Zeus for the Olympics] linked sport with religion and further intermeshed them with the other major aspects of Greek life," Swaddling said.

Archimedes Link?

The 3-D x-rays, described this week in the journal Nature, also allowed researchers for the first time to read the names of months inscribed on the device's 19-year calendar, revealing that they have Corinthian origins.

"Every Greek community had its own distinct calendar [and] they had different names for each month," Jones explained.

"Now that we can read the month names, we can say this is a calendar that comes from one of a number of places in the western Greek world, probably the island of Sicily [now part of Italy] or northwest Greece."

Sicily is a particularly intriguing possibility, because it was home to the scientist Archimedes, who is known from Roman records to have invented some lost types of mechanical astronomy devices.

"A book by [Roman philosopher] Cicero describes this thing [Archimedes constructed] and how it showed the movements of the sun and the moon, and how eclipses happened. It sounds a bit like what we've got [with the Antikythera mechanism]," Jones said.

Though Archimedes died a century or so before the mechanism was built, others in Sicily could have made it based on his knowledge and skills, the scientists theorize.

Team member Yanis Bitsakis, of the Center for History and Paleography in Athens, added that he expects to be busy for years to come deciphering still-unread inscriptions.

"We were amazed by this discovery, but we still have a lot of other inscriptions to read," he said. "They are fragmented in a giant jigsaw puzzle of 82 pieces."

The artifact's scrambled nature makes assembling characters into words and then deciphering their larger meaning a tough task.

"It's written in a style like an instruction manual. If you do this, then you'll see that," Bitsakis explained.

"So if we had the complete text, there would be no mystery. But we only have about one-fifth of what was initially there."

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