SHORTLISTED FOR THE ROYAL SOCIETY PRIZE FOR SCIENCE BOOKS 2009
In 1900 a group of sponge divers blown off course in the Mediterranean discovered an Ancient Greek shipwreck dating from around 70 BC.
Lying unnoticed for months amongst their hard-won haul was what appeared to be a formless lump of corroded rock. It turned out to be the most stunning scientific artefact we have from antiquity. For more than a century this ‘Antikythera mechanism‘ puzzled academics. It was ancient clockwork, unmatched in complexity for 1000 years – but who could have made it, and what was it for? Now, more than 2000 years after the device was lost at sea, scientists have pieced together its intricate workings and revealed its secrets.
In Decoding the Heavens, Jo Marchant tells the full story of the 100-year quest to understand this ancient computer. Along the way she unearths a diverse cast of remarkable characters – ranging from Archimedes to Jacques Cousteau – and explores the deep roots of modern technology not only in ancient Greece but in the Islamic world and medieval Europe too. At heart an epic adventure story, this is a book that challenges our assumptions about technology transfer over the ages while giving us fresh insights into history itself.
An epic of forgotten geniuses, lost treasure, death-defying underwater exploration and egomaniacal scientists. LA Times
A dizzyingly brilliant thing…Whatever else it might once have told its creators, the Antikythera mechanism bears a chilling message for our technological age. The Telegraph
Sunken treasure. A mysterious artefact. Scrambled inscriptions. Warring academic egos. Technology 1,000 years before its time. The tale…sounds like pulp fiction. But it is all true. The Independent
Marchant blends the story of the Antikythera mechanism, the people bewitched by it, the 100-year race to understand it, with the history, chemistry, archaeology, astronomy, engineering behind it. The account is sprinkled with the magic dust of an Indiana Jones adventure. New Scientist
*** Decoding the Heavens is published in several countries including the UK (Windmill), US (Da Capo), Germany (Rowohlt) and Greece (Travlos). In the UK, please support local bookshops by purchasing from Bookshop.org. ***
- Antikythera shipwreck yields statue pieces and mystery bronze disc
Nature, 4 October 2017
- The Antikythera mechanism and the shipwreck
Science in Action, BBC World Service, 22 September 2016 Listen here
- Human skeleton found on famed Antikythera shipwreck
Nature, 19 September 2016
- Beyond the Antikythera mechanism
A new exhibition of 2000-year-old artefacts from the Antikythera shipwreck includes some breathtakingly pristine treasures
Nature arts blog September 2015
- Archimedes’ legendary sphere brought to life
Recreation of a 2000-year-old model of the Universe to appear in exhibition
Nature news September 2015
- Divers return to famous Antikythera wreck to hunt for treasures
Gemma Smith is grinning like a child on Christmas morning. ‘It could be anything!’ she says, as our boat speeds past the rugged grey cliffs of Antikythera…
New Scientist September 2015
- Exploring the Titanic of the ancient world
Scientists search the wine-dark sea for the remains of a ship that sank 2,000 years ago – carrying what is believed to be the world’s first computer
Smithsonian February 2015
- Return to Antikythera.
Divers revisit wreck where ancient computer found
Guardian science blog 2 October 2012
- Mechanical inspiration
Did the Greeks’ vision of a geometrical universe come from the internal gearing of an ancient mechanism?
Nature 24 November 2010
- Archimedes and the 2000-year-old computer
New Scientist 12 December 2008
- In search of lost time
Decoding the secrets of an ancient clockwork computer
Nature 30 November 2006
Talks and interviews:
- Decoding the Heavens: The Antikythera mechanism
Darwin College Lecture Series, Cambridge, 31 January 2019 Watch here
- Tracking the Cosmos: The technology of the Antikythera mechanism
The Getty Villa, Los Angeles 4 March 2010 Watch here
- Jo Marchant tells the story of the Antikythera mechanism, a mechanical ‘computer’ designed to calculate astronomical positions, which was found in 1901 at the site of an ancient Greek shipwreck of around 70 BC.
Start the Week, BBC Radio 4, 10 November 2008 Listen here
- Jo Marchant joins the pod to talk about the mysterious Antikythera mechanism, found in the Mediterranean more than a century ago.
The Guardian, Science Weekly podcast, 27 October 2008 Listen here
For more information on Decoding the Heavens and the Antikythera mechanism as well as my old Decoding the Heavens blog, please click here: jomarchant.com/decodingtheheavens.com.