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Nova: Ancient Computer
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 4, 2013
As you read this review there are some 3 million ship wrecks lying beneath the waves (most unexplored).

In 1901 one of those ship wrecks -- of a Roman trading vessel that sunk while headed home to port --was discovered by Greek spong divers. Among its treasures were hoards of coins, various statues, amphoras of wine and most importantly an ancient computer.

For most of the past 100 years that ancient computer has been an enigma. Interestingly enough the size of a contemporary laptop, the ancient computer now is basically one rusted hunk of metal through which observers can easily see the evidences of gear mechanisms that it used for whatever its purpose was.

In one of history's great detective stories this DVD removes the rust from the device revealing not only what it looked like in antiquity but also what its purpose was and who probably made it. In terms of its appearance, it's like a larger version of the inside of an old watch, with its interconnected gears toothed gears. Though it lacks it now it used to have a face plate on one side that showed the movements of the moon and also the then known five planets. On the back it had another face which revealed future eclipses showing the year, month, date and time when they would occur. The purpose of the device testified to the importance ancients then ascribed to knowing the movements of the stars in the heavens. Though we no longer employ the practice such matters used to effect decisions on the part of Kings and Emporers as to the timing and fact of whether they'd go to war.

Perhaps most interesting however is the question of who made this device. It's interesting because the man attributed to creating this device was none other than the Greek genuis Archimedes. Archimedes lived in the Greek city/state of Syracuse which was located just south of the main boot of Italy and therefore one of the very first communities to be overrun when the Roman Empire began its campaign of expansion. Today Archimedes is probably best known for his help in trying to prevent that expansion. One story tells of how Archimedes developed a device which was able to lift Roman ships from the water so they could be dashed on the rocks. Another story tells how Archimedes made smoothed mirrors which he used to start fires on board the Roman ships so as to frustrate their efforts at conquest. What is perhaps lesser known is that Archimedes also perfected a system of calculus some 18 centuries before Isaac Newton or that he measured the distance between the Earth and the Sun. If this movie is right then this computer is yet another example of Archimedes great genuis.

Sadly, of course history records that the Romans did overrun Archimedes' Syracuse. In perhaps their only contribution to mathematics, a Roman centurion killed Archimedes with his sword, and in so doing began a dark ages that would hang over Europe for the better part of two thousand years.

This great DVD not illuminates an important find it also makes one wonder just what else awaits us at the bottom of the sea.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
This is a superb reissue of a great British program on perhaps the greatest archaeological find of all time. This computer (antikythera mechanism) pushed back the history of complex (differential) gearing by about 1700 years! The forensics of determining how this thing works is fascinating. This program doesn't entail technical issues as these are intricate and require a great deal of knowledge of astronomy. This device was a calendar computer that could predict eclipses among other things. It tells alot about ancient Greek social issues as well. A good video for high school students (history and science).
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2013
How amazing to watch today's scientists create new technology so we can understand the most amazing artifact yet uncovered. Ancient Greece had a working mechanical computer!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2013
A compelling documentary about an artifact retrieved from a Greek shipwreck a century ago: a corroded metallic object that baffled experts for years. The documentary follows current day experts using technology and reverse engineering to explore the secrets of what was in fact an mechanized device, a thousand years or more ahead of its time. History, engineering, math, and science are all explored, and the various expert commentary brings with it an enthusiasm for the subject that keeps the audience engaged.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2014
This is another example of Nova at its finest: the story of an ancient Greek mechanism and how modern experts are figuring out how it was made and what it was supposed to do.
I first heard of the Antikythera machine almost 40 years ago, when I read a book by the first man to study it in depth, Professor Derek de Solla Price. The device itself was discovered in 1901 by divers off the island of Antikythera when they found a sunken ship. Many things were recovered from that wreck; unfortunately, the machine was in very poor shape, the corrosive effects of the sea water having damaged it. But with modern technology, they've been able to get some pretty good ideas of how it was built and how it worked. That is what this program is about.
That it was a device used to predict the motions of sun, moon, and planets has been known for many years, but this research refines and extends that: it was also used to predict the eclipse cycle. The program goes into detail over how they did it: e.g., one gear was found to have 223 teeth on it -- this is the number of lunar cycles in the 18 year Saros cycle, the time it takes for the eclipse cycle to repeat. Predicting eclipses was important to the ancients because they were considered to be omens, usually bad ones.
The experts shown here actually built a new Antikythera machine and found that many of the things it did were not believed to have been known to the ancients, only coming to light in the 17th Century A.D.
I could go on, but I won't. The care taken and the detail included in this one short episode are incredible: it's well worth watching, many times over!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 4, 2013
This should be required watching, especially if you are of Greek descent! It is inspiring, relevant and impressive. I have ordered it for several friends and family members.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2013
This is an amazing discovery and even more amazing analysis showing what the ancients were doing t,000's of years before Steve Jobs. This should be taught in every school to help understand the cycles of lost history and technology. Bravo and well done Nova.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2013
Its amazing what the Greeks were capable of 2000 years ago. At least Archimedes was an amazing man. I highly recommend it
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on July 2, 2014
Fascinating history. I saw this on TV and wanted to see it again.
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on February 14, 2014
Excellent graphics, well developed theme. Couldn't ask more from the producers.
I always love this program, for the topics they chose and their scientific approach.
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