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World's first 'computer'

- by Jeremy Guest

World's first 'computer' on show in Greece.

Holiday visitors to Greece this year will get a chance to see what is thought to be the world's first 'computer', which dates from about 100BC. An exhibition called 'The wreck of Antikythera – The ship, the treasures, the Mechanism', opens at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens on April 5 and will run for a year

The Antikythera Mechanism is believed to be an ancient mechanical computer designed to calculate astronomical positions. It was discovered in the wreck of an ancient ship off the Greek island of Antikythera in the Aegean Sea.

This is the first time that all the finds from the Antikythera wreck will be shown together and some of the items have never been on public display before.

The wreck was discovered in 1900 when Greek sponge-fishers were blown off course by a violent storm to the tiny island of Antikythera, just north of Crete.

When the storm had passed, the sponge-fishers explored the local waters for sponges and discovered the remnants of an ancient ship full of statues and vases.

Among the treasures was a small metal object with complicated gears embedded in rock. Originally thought to be a mechanical clock, it is now considered to be the world's oldest known analog computer.

The heavily encrusted and corroded mechanism was in three main parts and dozens of smaller fragments. The device itself was thin, about 33 cm high, 17 cm wide, and just 9 cm thick. It was made of bronze and originally mounted in a wooden frame.

The device was inscribed with a text of over 2,000 characters, many of which have only just recently been deciphered. Experts say it is probably an astrolabe, which in Greek means 'star catcher' and was used to calculate the position of the sun and the stars in the sky. Technological artifacts of such complexity did not appear until 1,000 years later.

The ship was probably wrecked in the middle of the first century BC. Some scholars have speculated that the ship was carrying loot of the Roman General Sulla and was on its way from Rhodes to Rome. It carried more than 100 bronze and marble statues, many amphorae and coins, most of which will be on show at the exhibition.

Thousands are expected to visit the exhibition which is likely to attract many visitors on holiday in Greece and the Greek islands this summer.