History's Greatest Mysteries (2020) s04e09 Episode Script

Decoding the Mysterious Antikythera Mechanism

Tonight, an ancient
mechanical device
found on a 2,000-year-old
It's so complex that even
the world's top scientists
can't figure it out.
It's like finding a jet plane
in the tomb of King Tut.
But who actually made it?
Known as
the Antikythera mechanism,
its origin and purpose
are shrouded in secrecy.
The entire
façade of it is covered
with writing that had
never been seen previously.
How is it possible that
this thing was made
over 2,000 years ago?
Now, we'll explore
the top theories
this cryptic machine.
This is essentially a device
tracking the motions
of the heavens.
What if it was made
in the future,
and traveled back to the past?
Is there any evidence
that aliens
built the Antikythera mechanism?
Can modern technology
unlock its secrets?
Suddenly, it's capable of making
life and death decisions.
This is one of the greatest
mechanical inventions
of all time.
What is the Antikythera
Where did it come from?
And how does it work?
The Greek Isles, 1900.
A team of sponge divers
are on their way home
from their fishing grounds
off the coast of North Africa
when they're hit
by a powerful storm.
The sponge divers' boat
swept into an area
off the island of Antikythera,
which is located north of Crete,
and south of the Greek mainland.
It is a rocky and barren island
with swift currents
right off of its coast.
It's a very dangerous
and treacherous area.
So, the group is incredibly
that they don't wreck out there.
And after the storm
settles down,
they decide to go back out
and dive for sponges
one more time.
Diver Elias Stadiatos
goes first.
He's underwater
for about a minute,
and then he just jumps
back into the boat terrified.
He's mumbling about men,
women, horses in the deep.
The team's captain,
Master Diver
Demetrios el Kondos,
decides to go see for himself.
El Kondos
descends into the water,
and when he comes back up,
he has an arm in his hands
a bronze arm from a statue.
The quote-unquote "bodies"
down there
were actually corroded statues
from a shipwreck.
The team can't believe
what they found.
This ship is huge.
It's 180 feet long,
even though only parts
of the cargo
and the vessel still remain.
It's clearly very old,
and it lies at a depth
of about 150 feet,
just to the north
of Antikythera Island.
It's an incredible find,
but you have to remember,
it is the year 1900,
and scuba diving
is in its infancy.
By that, I mean the suits
are made out of canvas,
you've got copper helmets.
Scuba tanks, not a thing yet.
And many consider this
to be the first major discovery
in underwater archaeology.
Greek authorities ask the divers
to help salvage items
from the shipwreck.
They start pulling out statuary,
and pottery, and silver
and bronze coins, and jewelry.
It's an unimaginable bounty.
As the treasure haul grows,
authorities begin to ask,
what is this mysterious ship,
and where did it come from?
The coins and pottery on board
appear to be Ancient Greek
and come from about anywhere
from 80 to 50 B.C.
Because it's such a huge ship
and contains many
high-end marvelous goods,
it's believed the ship
was on its way to Rome
for a triumphal parade
of Julius Caesar.
It does fit the timeline,
since Julius Caesar ruled
until his death in 44 B.C.
But not everything
appears to be valuable.
Amongst all
these amazing artifacts,
they find this squarish piece
of, you know,
corroded metal and dirt
that looks like a rock.
It's about seven inches wide,
and they bring it up with them,
but we're not really sure why
they even looked twice at it.
Frankly, I'm surprised
they even bothered
to bring it up
from the sea floor.
It isn't until a year later
that archaeologist
Valerios Stais
is going through this pile
of some of the more unimportant
artifacts that were found.
And he comes across this piece
of corroded metal,
and at first
doesn't think much of it,
until he looks inside,
and he comes across
what appears to be
a mechanical gear.
And he is confused,
he is puzzled by this.
Most scholars were convinced
that the gear technology
was invented primarily in Europe
maybe during the Renaissance
or later.
So, we can imagine
the astonishment and confusion
of Mr. Stais.
The device is dubbed
the Antikythera mechanism,
named for where it was found.
And it's much more complex
than originally thought.
Turns out that they brought up
about three main pieces
of the mechanism,
with 82 separate fragments,
many of which also had gears.
But it appears that this is only
a small part of the machine.
And Stais is looking
at all of this
and trying to figure out
how it all goes together.
The fragments are not
in great shape.
I mean, they're really,
really hard to get at.
They're covered in dirt,
they're aged.
Imagine trying
to put this thing together.
It'd be like putting together
a 3D puzzle
and all of the pieces
are the exact same color.
Two-thirds of this thing
are missing,
and the parts that we do have
are covered in sediment
because they've been sitting
at the bottom of the ocean
for 2,000 years.
Faced with these challenges,
Stais ultimately gives up,
and no one attempts to decode
the machine for decades.
Then in 1951,
a British physicist
named Derek de Solla Price
is studying the history
of scientific instruments
of the ancient world,
and he becomes fascinated
with the Antikythera mechanism.
He goes to Greece
to see it in person.
He examines what he thinks
are inscriptions on the device.
Now, that in and of itself
is remarkable,
because it's pretty uncommon
to see Greek writing
inscribed in metal.
Many of the letters
are rubbed off
or corroded beyond recognition.
But they do manage
to translate one word,
which translates
to "ray of the sun"
in Ancient Greek.
And then,
there are other letters
which might be part of the word
As Price manages
to translate more of the text,
he develops a theory.
Most of the words
that you could read
had to do something
with the sky.
So, because of the gearing
and the inscriptions,
this is what convinced
Derek de Solla Price
that he was dealing with
an astronomical computer.
Think about that,
and really let it sink in.
This makes it a computer
that was built
more than 2,000 years ago.
Price sketches out
a rendering of what he thinks
the original mechanism
must have looked like.
We're talking about a box
with dials on the outside.
You've got a hand-turned crank,
and on the inside,
you've got a series
of very complex gears
interlocking and interweaving
with each other.
Price believes that this device
actually calculates
the movement of the sun,
of the moon,
and possibly the planets.
What the user would have to do,
is they'd have to input,
for example, a date,
and then it would spit back out
the information for you
as to where the sun,
or the moon,
or potentially a planet
was in the sky at that time.
That is just one definition
of a computer, right?
You input information,
and then it will output data
right back to you.
The entire concept of that
is so far ahead of its time,
like over 1,000 years ahead.
Having the math, the astronomy,
the technological prowess
to create it,
it's just completely baffling.
The discovery
challenges everything
scientists thought they knew
about the ancient world.
There weren't astronomical
calendrical computers
in Ancient Greece.
There were sundials.
That's what we thought was
the height of their technology.
The Ancient Greeks
get a lot of credit
for being very advanced
in the realms of places
like arts, philosophy,
But building a computer,
that's out of the realm
of possibility.
This device should not
have existed in 80 B.C.
For this level of technology,
it's really when we start
making mechanical clocks
in the 1300s that you finally
get gears like this
on a regular basis.
And the first
analog calculators,
we really don't see
till the 1600s,
so it's like at least 1,500,
1,600 years
after this device was built.
This is considered
to be one of the greatest
mechanical inventions
of all time.
And Price sums it up by saying
that from all we know
of Hellenistic math and science,
we would think that a device
like this could not exist.
Price spends
the next two decades
trying to uncover more answers.
Price becomes convinced
in his study
that it is a planetary computer,
but he's never really able
to figure out who built it,
or how it could have been built
in that time period.
So, Price works with what he has
and with what he can see,
but remember,
there are still two-thirds
of this device missing.
So, what are those components,
what might they do,
and could they help
to truly explain
what the purpose is behind
the Antikythera mechanism?
Not only that, but the pieces
that Price does have
are all fused together.
It's almost like
a solid piece of stone.
It's very hard to discern
what's going on inside.
But it won't be for long.
The mysterious
Antikythera mechanism
stumps scientists
for 10 decades.
How could something this complex
date to Ancient Greece?
And what is its purpose?
British physicist
Derek de Solla Price
thinks he knows.
He believes that the device
is an astronomical computer
that was able to track
the heavenly bodies over time.
But the technology
that he's using
to study the mechanism
just isn't very advanced.
The best he can do
is an X-ray machine
in the 1970s.
And those images are flattened.
You can't see the detail
of the gears inside.
So, some of his conclusions are,
by necessity, educated guesses.
Then in 2002,
the British Science Museum's
curator of mechanical
engineering, Michael Wright,
applies new technology
to the device.
Wright and his research partner
take radiographs of the machine
to fill in more of its
As opposed to just a flat
two-dimensional scan,
these scans can focus
on one plane at a time,
which allows for a more
precise location
for each of these gears
inside the machine.
After analyzing his scans,
Wright believed
that this machine
was far more complex than what
Price had originally asserted,
and additionally, there was
a turntable on the inside of it
that rotated for each planet.
One of the other
cool things Wright finds
is a half-white,
half-black marble
that he postulates can be used
to predict the phases
of the moon.
This is confirmation
of Price's theory
that this is
essentially a device
tracking the motions
of the heavens.
But now, we know
more specifically
what it's tracking
the moon, the sun,
and the several planets
the Greeks were aware of.
The question is,
why was it used?
In 2013, a team
at Cardiff University
performs even more
advanced scans.
Led by astrophysicist
Mike Edmunds
and mathematician Tony Freeth,
the approach that they take
is two-pronged.
They use high-resolution
surface scanning
to make their way
through all of the corrosion
and the sediment that had
built up on the device.
And they also use
a computed X-ray tomography
to get closer looks
on the inside.
What this will help them to do
is to create a highly detailed
3D image of the mechanism
for the very first time.
The approach yields
yet another breakthrough.
After they were able to finish
their thousands of scans
of the 82 pieces,
something truly amazing emerges,
and that is, they find writing.
It's extremely
difficult to read something
that is corroded.
But because they had
more advanced technology
in their scanning of the device,
now you have hundreds,
hundreds of letters.
The entire façade of it
is covered with writing
that had never been seen
Now, keep in mind
that a lot of the parts
of the machine
are still missing.
But the pieces
that they're looking at
have about 3,400 pieces of text
that are written
in Ancient Greek.
So, what they're really
looking at
is a partial user's manual
for the machine.
The manual confirms
the mechanism can track stars
and planets, but it also
reveals something new.
There's a lower dial
on the back of the device
that no one has been able
to figure out yet.
But Freeth and his team,
they think they have the answer,
because there are glyphs
etched onto the segment
in the intervals of one,
five, and six months.
And Freeth thinks
that this is used
to predict the timing
of eclipses.
Now, why is this important?
Because to the Ancient Greek,
predicting eclipses
is predicting the future.
In the machine's instructions,
there are references
to the size, and even
to the colors of the eclipse.
And that's what keys Freeth in,
because eclipses don't have
colors in nature.
But what's interesting here
is that the colors
are what the Greeks used
for what they called
astral divination.
In Ancient Greece,
astral divination,
or the reading of the stars,
is a vital part of daily life.
The Greeks used
this large-scale astrology
to determine the fortunes
of entire countries
and civilizations.
Eclipses were omens,
and the colors
determined whether
they were good or bad omens.
They inherited this belief
system from the Babylonians
who used to obsess over the sky
and everything in it.
They would record
whatever they saw
and the effects that it
may have had on their lives.
For instance, on the day
they set sail on a voyage,
any particular planet
is in the sky
and the ship wrecks,
the next time that planet
happens to appear,
they won't send a ship out.
Now, we might call that
but to them
that is very, very real.
Now, imagine the value
of being able
to have
this information in advance.
Before the Antikythera
if they had planted
a bunch of crops,
and then an eclipse came
and it was a bad omen,
and the crops die out,
bad luck, right?
But with this device,
they can now plan in advance,
because they know when
the eclipses are coming.
This would allow them
to plan far up ahead
when the best time
to make offerings to the gods,
when to plan for big events,
and especially when
to embark on campaigns
and to invade and launch wars.
If this theory is correct,
the Antikythera mechanism
is much more significant.
Suddenly, it's capable of making
life and death decisions.
It's quite possible the device
could operate the government
and make decisions
about state craft.
And as some historians
are quick to point out,
they've only recovered
a third of the machine.
Just imagine what the mechanism
may have been tracking
or predicting in its full form.
Perhaps the weather,
perhaps natural disasters.
Maybe even the rise and fall
of entire dynasties
and civilizations,
all laid out like clockwork.
A map of the stars,
or a way to predict the future?
Whatever its purpose,
the ancient
Antikythera mechanism
is a technical marvel.
Scientists have been studying
this device
for over 100 years now,
ever since it was first
on that shipwreck in 1900.
And again, with something
so enigmatic,
by all rights,
something that should not exist,
you are dying to know,
what was its original purpose?
What is it meant to do?
But perhaps even more,
you want to know
where it comes from,
what brilliant civilization
built this.
MICHAEL When we think about
whoever created this device,
and compare 'em to other
creative geniuses,
like Leonardo da Vinci,
Thomas Edison,
Albert Einstein,
clearly, this person
is in the same class,
if not somewhat above them
because of the nature
of the time they were in.
Da Vinci conceived
of a helicopter
400 years before
a working one was built.
And then you have
this society in 80 B.C.
that imagines this complex
mechanical device,
the likes of which weren't seen
for another 1,500 years.
And not only
did they imagine it,
they built the thing.
So, that might have
Leonardo beat.
But who actually made it?
Was it really
the Ancient Greeks?
I mean, the writing
inscribed on it
would suggest that it
comes from there,
but what workshop
in Ancient Greece
has the skillset to actually
build something like this?
And we know the great minds
of Ancient Greece,
and it seems that almost nobody
fits that bill.
Probably the only person
in Ancient Greece
who comes to mind
as maybe possessing
the constellation of skills
needed to build
something like this
is Archimedes.
Archimedes is an inventor,
a scientist, an engineer,
whose fame grew
and whose legend grew
amongst those
who lived even soon after him.
Around 50 B.C.
the Roman statesman Cicero
actually writes about Archimedes
owning a sphere
"binding the disparate motions
of the seven heavenly bodies."
Could that have been
the Antikythera mechanism?
If Archimedes'
workshop is the source,
the device would be even older
than anticipated.
Archimedes dies
around 212 B.C.
and archaeologists and experts
thinks the device was made
about 20 years
before the ship sank,
which would have been 80 B.C.
That's almost 130 years
after Archimedes died.
Does this rule out Archimedes?
Not necessarily.
Maybe the device
was already quite old
when it set out on this
fateful journey.
Recent evidence
proves this could be possible.
Thanks to those 2013 scans,
we were able to calculate
a day zero for the machine,
or the first date
that it was calibrated,
when it started doing these
really complex calculations
of astral positions.
And this date is way before
80 B.C.
Their best guess is about
204 B.C.,
which is around
Archimedes' time.
So, maybe he started the device
and his workshop
finished it off.
The device's inscriptions
also may support this theory.
Many of these inscriptions
have to do with datings
and calendars,
which really helps us
narrow things down,
because the Greeks
did not have a simple
universal dating system.
In 2008, researchers
at the Antikythera Mechanism
Research Project
discovered that the names
of the months on the device
are the same ones used
for the Corinth colonies
one of those colonies
being Syracuse,
the home of Archimedes.
But this theory is disputed
by NYU professor Alexander Jones
in a 2017 book.
Jones considers the possibility
of Archimedes' workshop,
but ultimately rejects it,
because it doesn't line up
with where the mechanism
was found,
which was on a voyage
that was heading between Crete
and the Peloponnese.
Because we know for a fact
that the ship was headed
out of the Aegean
and into the Ionian Sea,
and Corinth and its colonies
are nowhere on that path,
so the cargo
couldn't have come from there.
Around the same time,
astrophysicist Mike Edmunds
also challenges the idea
that Archimedes
or his team
created the mechanism.
Edmunds heads the Antikythera
Mechanism Research Project,
and he has something that a lot
of the other researchers don't,
because he is an astrophysicist,
and he understands
the mathematics
that the mechanism was built
to calculate.
The thing is, the mechanism
is extremely precise when it
comes to position tracking
of heavenly bodies,
but only if you're standing
in the right spot.
There are some limits,
though, to the genius
of whoever built
the Antikythera mechanism,
because it was designed
around the belief
that Earth is at the center
of the universe
and everything goes around us.
Now, of course,
we know that's not true,
and we can calculate
the position of a celestial body
no matter what vantage point
we're coming from.
But back then,
with the math that they had.
it's all relative.
Based on Edmunds' calculations,
the Antikythera mechanism
was built
at 35 degrees north latitude.
This is where the machine
works perfectly.
Now, Archimedes lived up
at about 37 degrees,
and up there, the machine
would have worked okay,
but it would have drifted
towards inaccuracy,
because it's about
150 miles too far north.
And that finding
opens up a new possibility.
When you look at that line
that runs through
35 degrees latitude,
through the Eastern
you realize there's not
a whole lot there.
There's Crete, there's Cyprus,
and that's about it.
And neither of those were hubs
of technology, really.
This leads some
theorists to suggest
that the location
the device was built vanished.
In 1996,
author David Hatcher Childress
proposes the lost city
of Atlantis
as the Antikythera mechanism's
place of origin.
In a way, there is no more
fitting home
for the mechanism than Atlantis.
Greek philosopher Plato
describes it
as a powerful, advanced,
mechanically superior
that was on a large island
and succumbed
to natural disasters.
For centuries,
researchers have looked
for the remains
of that lost city.
When you start
thinking about Atlantis,
if it existed
and that's a big if
there are a couple
of top candidates
for where it might have been,
and one is off Santorini.
What the modern
Greece call Santorini,
the real name is Thera.
They had a volcano.
In 1650 B.C.E. it blew up
and destroyed two-thirds
of the island.
And it triggered off
these enormous earthquakes
and tsunamis that swallowed up
a lot of Santorini
and also impacted Crete,
and possibly any other islands
that sat in between the two.
Now, I know most people
might think Atlantis,
it's a place of fiction, right?
But there actually was
a real-life civilization
that was submerged by water,
and they were called
the Minoans.
And many historians think that
the Minoan civilization
actually inspired
the story of Atlantis.
And the location actually
lines up with the origins
of the Antikythera mechanism
a now-missing island
just north of Crete
that sits at 35 degrees
But not everyone is convinced.
One of the challenges
with the Atlantis theory,
even if Atlantis existed,
is the timing.
It would have been long gone
by 80 B.C.
If this is a relic
from Atlantis,
it would have been
quite old by the time
you load it onto the ship.
Now, it's not
completely impossible,
because after all,
it's a partial thing
that survived 2,000 years
at the bottom of the sea.
It might be even older
than that.
But this one's gonna be
really difficult to prove.
Scientists have worked for over
a century to understand
the Antikythera mechanism,
yet one key question remains.
How could this device
from 80 B.C.
be so far ahead of its time?
In 1997, one author
proposes a shocking idea.
The machine may not be
as old as we think.
Pretty much
everyone who has studied
or even looked at or read
about the mechanism would say,
how is it possible
that this thing
was made over 2,000 years ago?
That is,
until author J.H. Brennan
presents a novel new approach
to the problem.
What if it wasn't made
2,000 years ago?
What if it was made
in the future
and traveled back to the past?
In his book "Time Travel:
A New Perspective,"
Brennan asks,
was the Antikythera mechanism
carried to Ancient Crete
from the future?
It sounds preposterous,
but does it sound
any more preposterous
than thinking that
the Ancient Greeks
made this device?
Some would say no.
Its sophisticated
understanding of astronomy,
its mathematical prowess,
as well as its mechanical
engineering genius
we have no other evidence
that this type of skill
ever existed in 80 B.C.
other than this device.
We have no other device that has
a similar level of technology.
There's no evidence
for anything else
like this mechanism in 80 B.C.
Even pioneering
researcher Derek de Solla Price
says that finding this device
on a Roman shipwreck
is like finding a jet plane
in the tomb of King Tut.
Just the fact that
it's a clockwork
gear-based mechanism
is something
we didn't think existed
in Ancient Greece.
One of the gears
on the Antikythera mechanism
is what's called
a differential gear.
A differential gear is a gear
in which the cogs
are of different sizes.
So, you have a large gear
and a smaller gear.
The large gear has to spin
at a more rapid rate to keep up
with the smaller gear.
So, a common differential gear
exists in your car,
because when you make a turn,
the outer wheel has to spin
faster than the inner wheel.
The differential gear
in the Antikythera mechanism
is used to determine the angle
between the sun, the moon,
and the phases of the moon,
and there it is, in 80 B.C.,
in this machine.
The next time that we see
a differential gear
used in a device
is in the year 1720
in a clock made by
Joseph Williamson.
And it is not in common use
until the early 1800s.
Maybe now
Brennan's time travel idea
isn't so far-fetched.
If the mechanism
features technology
from 1,800 years
into the future,
how do you reconcile that?
Proponents of this theory
also point to the fact that
nothing else like it exists.
Breakthroughs in the history
of science
are generally
developed over time.
When you look at the history
of something
like the printing press,
or a telephone,
or an automobile,
there are precedents.
There are partial steps
in the development of the device
that get it to where
it is today.
We didn't just suddenly
have a Corvette.
There were a lot
of rudimentary attempts
at a vehicle that got us
to the Corvette.
But the mechanism
has no precedents
in ancient times.
We have found nothing else
like this, not even close.
So, you have to ask,
where are the other devices?
Why haven't we found
any other mechanisms
that could do even a fraction
of what this one does?
When we think about clockworks,
and you wanna look
at its development
from rudimentary clockwork
to more advanced,
you're really gonna be looking
at the period
just before the Renaissance,
that's when it started.
You're not gonna be looking
at Ancient Greece.
For all these reasons, the idea
that the Antikythera mechanism
traveled through time
does have some supporters.
But then there are other
who are even more out there,
who say
the Antikythera mechanism
didn't just time travel,
it is the time machine.
So, on the front of the device,
you have the positions
of various objects
the sun, the moon,
and the planets.
You then have a crank
that you use
to rotate to a particular date
that then puts
everything in the position
where they're gonna be
in the sky.
So, therefore you have a device
that is calculating
both space and time.
When physicists
like Albert Einstein
and Stephen Hawking
talk about time travel,
the question becomes
whether or not space and time
can fold in on itself
to allow a person
to jump in between time periods.
So, those inputs on
the Antikythera mechanism,
could they be coordinates
for a journey
through space-time?
The mechanism
could literally be an atlas
to the cosmos
in four dimensions,
including time.
It's a map to get you
to your destination.
But with only one-third
of the Antikythera mechanism
to examine,
its additional functions
or its possible purpose
can't be fully determined.
Nothing of what we currently
have is a time machine,
let's just be clear about that.
But could the mechanism's
missing parts
help power
a journey through time?
It makes for a fun story.
The very first time traveler
finishes their prototype.
They decide they want to encode
the instructions
in Ancient Greek,
because they've long admired
the society for its
well-known wisdom,
so much so, that that's actually
where they wanna go
on their first destination,
so they go back to Ancient Greek
in the time machine.
They're there,
some tragedy befalls them
the shipwreck and poof.
The only Antikythera mechanism
is now stuck in 80 B.C.
In 1968, one influential author
suggests he knows the secret
to the Antikythera mechanism.
In his 1968 book
"Chariots of the Gods?",
Erich Von Daniken questions
numerous ancient technologies
which he believes were too
advanced to have been created
by the humans in those
respective eras.
So, these are things
like the pyramids,
and Machu Picchu, Stonehenge,
and the Antikythera mechanism.
According to von Daniken,
the reason is clear.
These things were not created
by humans, they were made
by highly intelligent
The theory
is definitely out there,
but it attracts a lot
of believers.
If this machine is beyond
human knowledge,
what other option do we have?
Von Daniken believes
that in the distant past,
extraterrestrials land on Earth,
they make contact with humans.
They share their knowledge
and wanna help
advance scientific progress.
And in the places
where this happens,
we see these unexplainable
like in Ancient Egypt,
or in this case, Ancient Greece.
The theory is that this
is extraterrestrial technology
given to humans that's based
on their understanding
of tracking the stars
and the planets
so that they can help
humans better understand
the universe around them.
According to von Daniken,
the reason
you have Ancient Greek language
written on the device
is that either
the extraterrestrials
built it for them and then
translated the instructions
into Ancient Greek, or taught
them how to build the device,
and the Greeks themselves
put the instructions on it.
In 1999, von Daniken publishes
"Odyssey of the Gods,"
in which he suggests
that Ancient Greece was once
a nexus of alien activity.
Von Daniken sees evidence
of this all around.
The Antikythera mechanism,
the advanced political structure
and civilization
that they build,
even the stories that
they tell about their gods.
capable of traveling
distant galaxies
would look like gods
to ancient humans.
Von Daniken believes
these visitors
are an inspiration
for the Greek gods
Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite,
and the other residents
of Mount Olympus.
Another thing that comes up
in Greek legends is flying.
Gods fly, chariots fly.
This is unusual in a society
where they've never seen
anything that flies
other than birds and insects.
As we know, there are no
flying vehicles
in Ancient Greece,
but maybe some came to visit.
Is there any evidence
that aliens
visited these ancient cultures?
Not exactly.
But the Greeks and Romans
observed and recorded some
strange happenings in the sky,
and some of those accounts
are pretty curious.
In 2007,
Goddard Institute astrophysicist
Richard Stothers
publishes a report
on unexplained aerial phenomena
in the ancient world.
Stothers analyzes these texts
from Ancient Greece and Rome,
and finds a ton
of unusual phenomena
in the skies at that time.
Now, some of it can be explained
as meteors and asteroids,
but a lot of it
remains unexplained.
In 65 A.D.,
historian Josephus
in his "History of the Wars"
records an event in Judea
that can only be described
as a battle in the sky,
with chariots
and troops of soldiers in armor
shooting fire at each other.
This event had many witnesses
and has led some people to argue
that this was an alien
Stothers compares these accounts
to modern UFO reports,
which as we know,
our military
has begun declassifying.
Other ancient records
describe objects in the sky
that are disc-shaped,
and metallic in texture,
and have soundless movement,
and are able to hover.
And this actually sounds
a lot like modern UFO sightings.
So, it doesn't prove that aliens
visited Ancient Greeks,
but it's interesting.
Could this origin
hint at the true purpose
of the Antikythera mechanism?
So, let's assume
just for a minute
that it is alien technology.
Well, then what was it used for?
I mean, why give
the Greeks this machine?
Von Daniken suggests
that due to its portable size,
it was probably made
as a navigation device.
It would have been
easily carried
and mounted on a ship.
According to
von Daniken, the aliens
were hoping that the humans
would advance from ships at sea
to ships in the sky,
or spaceships.
This device
was ultimately designed
to navigate our solar system,
not just the Mediterranean.
Some speculate the machine
might be capable of even more.
Don't forget all
the missing parts.
While the pieces we have
help track the planets
closest to Earth,
alien theorists
think that the full device
might have been used
to track aliens' home world,
or other navigational aids
that might have helped us
get from here to there.
Alien theorists also speculate
that there might be
a communications component
within the missing section.
Maybe it doesn't just track
the aliens' home,
maybe it is a way
of sending messages.
Let me be very clear.
Was this incredibly
precise machine
made by highly intelligent
No, probably not.
I mean, probably not.
But I think
it is absolutely amazing
how the mechanism
inspires wonderment
in everyone who comes across it.
How did it get here,
where did it come from?
The stories that people
come up with
for this thing are incredible.
The possibilities are endless.
In 2021, a team
led by Dr. Tony Freeth
completes a significant
a working model
of the Antikythera mechanism.
Dating back to one
of the original researchers,
Derek de Solla Price,
many people have tried
to recreate the mechanism,
or partial versions
of the mechanism.
But this one is different.
It includes every gear,
every inscription,
and every functionality.
It even includes
the wooden case.
Everything we know,
every piece we've found,
all put together
in working order.
It doesn't reveal
any additional functions,
but it's definitely
a useful tool to have
to see this all come together.
And it could lead
to future discoveries.
Freeth building this model
has an unintended consequence.
It leads many people to argue
that the mechanism
never worked at all,
and all the theories around
its possible uses
are in fact wrong.
Over the years,
many have questioned
whether the Antikythera
mechanism ever worked.
In 1980, the American scientist
and Nobel Prize winner
Richard Feynman goes to Greece,
and he sees the Antikythera
mechanism for himself in Athens.
And he wonders whether
it could have functioned.
Freeth's model works.
However, we have no proof
that the original mechanism
ever actually did.
And Freeth takes some liberties
in assuming
how certain gears fit
and how they may have
fit together.
With the benefit
of modern technology
and the ability to work
he can kind of guesstimate
and put the thing together
the way he feels it should work.
This does not mean
it's accurate to the original,
and Freeth makes no such claim.
It's not meant to be taken
as a literal reconstruction
of the mechanism.
He points out, however,
that it does prove
that something
with this functionality
could fit in a box that size.
But is there
any evidence the device
ever actually functioned?
Theorists quickly
point to the fact
that it took us
more than 120 years
since the object was found
in 1900
to build a replica
that works the same way,
and that's with hundreds
of top scientists studying it
and the benefit
of modern technology.
This just wouldn't have been
possible in 80 B.C.
People point out
that Freeth's model
does not look
exactly like the mechanism,
which is currently a mass lump
with no moving parts.
The mechanism
is a few hunks of metal and rock
with a few gears
sticking out of it,
looking more like something from
a Frankenstein movie
or a class project
than a computer.
It wouldn't be the first time
experts were fooled.
In the 18th century, a man
named Johann Kempelen de Pazmand
creates a clockwork
robotic chess player
that becomes known
as the Mechanical Turk.
The machine has a life-size
human head and torso
with arms that are resting
on a cabinet.
And on the cabinet
is a chess board,
and human beings come up
and play chess
against this machine,
and the machine wins.
The Turk makes
its official debut
in 1770 in Schönbrunn Palace,
which is the summer residence
of Austrian rulers.
Before it starts to play,
the audience is invited
to come up and check the machine
to see that it is actually real,
that there are no strings
moving the arms,
or no devices of any kind
allowing it to move.
But it all checks out,
and people,
when they're playing
the Mechanical Turk,
try to perform
some illegal moves,
but the machine will start
to shake its head and say "No,"
as if it's recognizing that
that move is not allowed.
It's really incredible.
The Mechanical Turk
becomes a sensation
across Europe.
It tours
European capitals in 1783,
stopping at Versailles
and playing
all of the best
chess players in the world.
It plays Benjamin Franklin,
Napoleon Bonaparte,
the King of Prussia
brilliant minds
who all marvel at this
chess-playing automaton.
But in 1834,
a series of articles
reveals the device
to be fraudulent.
For 60 years it fools everyone,
but it turns out
that it's all an illusion
with a human chess master
inside the cabinet
playing and manipulating
the machine.
But even though
the Turk doesn't work
without a human operator,
it is still a brilliant design.
The device is put on display
in Philadelphia in a museum
until it burns down in 1854.
People celebrate it
as a cunning piece of clockwork,
regardless of the fact it didn't
automatically play chess.
Can the same be said
of the Antikythera mechanism?
The parallels are clear.
The Antikythera mechanism
could be the original
Mechanical Turk, and maybe
it was a showpiece,
a marvelous clockwork housed
inside of a statue
that appeared to track
the heavens
through time automatically,
but it wasn't
actually automatic.
Inside the statue
there was an operator
making it all work.
Despite the questions it raises,
most historians still believe
the Antikythera mechanism
is genuine.
We know the Greeks were big fans
of amusements and entertainment.
But if that's the case
for this device,
why engrave it all over
with the detailed instructions?
What purpose does that
serve an audience?
I don't think it was meant
to be gawked at
and for entertainment,
it was meant to be used.
And if it didn't work,
why was it on a ship
with all of these
other marvelous treasures
bound for someone potentially
as important as Julius Caesar?
I think they thought this
was a really valuable object.
Dozens of academics
have dedicated their lives
to studying this thing,
and it has rewritten
the history books to show
what mankind is capable of.
Our species is incredible.
We may not know what
the Antikythera mechanism
actually did, but we can take
pride in the fact
that somebody
was brilliant enough
to create this thing
over two millennia ago.
And hopefully someday soon,
there will be somebody
brilliant enough
to solve its mysteries.
Recovery efforts
continue to this day
at the site
of the Antikythera shipwreck.
In 2017, an additional gear
was recovered.
Scientists are now working
to determine its function.
Perhaps new discoveries will
unlock the machine's secrets,
or they may simply leave us
with more unanswered questions.
I'm Laurence Fishburne.
Thank you for watching
"History's Greatest Mysteries."
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