Imaging technology helps crack ancient mystery

Dec. 13, 2006
DECEMBER 13--Thanks in part to HP Labs (http://www.hpl.hp.com) imaging technology, scientists have been able to create a virtual reconstruction of what is now known as the Antikythera Mechanism.

By Jamie Beckett, HP Labs

DECEMBER 13--Thanks in part to HP Labs (http://www.hpl.hp.com) imaging technology, scientists have been able to create a virtual reconstruction of what is now known as the Antikythera Mechanism, the badly corroded bronze device near the Greek Island of Antikythera discovered in 1900. Although scientists believed the geared mechanism to be some sort of mechanical calendar, its specific functions remained a mystery for more than a century. "Nothing as complex as this is known until you get to the Middle Ages, when people started building clocks," says Tom Malzbender, one of two HP Labs researchers who helped with the discovery.

Malzbender and Dan Gelb got involved in the project a year ago, when members of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project invited them to Athens to apply their patented reflectance imaging techniques to the deciphering process. They used the technology to view the front and rear surfaces of the more than 70 fragments that comprise the mechanism, including metal plates and gears, some of which are inscribed with faded Greek characters. Reflectance imaging involves taking photos of an artifact from a fixed point and 50 different light sources arrayed in a hemisphere over the object and then stitching those images together. This allowed archaeologists to change the angle of light or texture of the surface of the object to make faint markings appear more vivid.

An x-ray technique called computer tomography was also used to probe the depths of the device. The new research explains how the gears work and identifies twice as many markings on the device as previously detected.

By Jamie Beckett, HP Labs

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