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Welcome to History Buff, a blog for history lovers everywhere! History Buff brings news stories about archaeology from around the world together on one site. From finds in ancient Egypt to new discoveries in anthropology, History Buff wants to know. And feel free to stop by History Buff's ** Author Interviews** for Q&As with authors of historical fiction. Enjoy!

Michelle Moran
Historical fiction author

As an historical fiction writer I am fascinated by news stories featuring the past as it's unearthed and reimagined and brought to life. I spend a
large quantity of time searching for news in archaeology and history. Once in a great while a new archaeological discovery will act as an inspiration for what I'm currently writing. But most of the time the news stories I read are simply interesting tidbits of history. Unfortunately, I have disallowed comments because I travel so frequently that I can neither monitor nor respond to them. But I would still love to share the history that I find fascinating each day. So welcome! And feel free to visit my website at www.michellemoran.com.

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8.04.2008

Fragmentary Knowledge


"Antikythera Mechanism Research Project."
The main fragment of the Mechanism, found after two thousand years under water. Courtesy Antikythera Mechanism Research Project.

In October, 2005, a truck pulled up outside the National Archeological Museum in Athens, and workers began unloading an eight-ton X-ray machine that its designer, X-Tek Systems of Great Britain, had dubbed the Bladerunner. Standing just inside the National Museum’s basement was Tony Freeth, a sixty-year-old British mathematician and filmmaker, watching as workers in white T-shirts wrestled the Range Rover-size machine through the door and up the ramp into the museum. Freeth was a member of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project—a multidisciplinary investigation into some fragments of an ancient mechanical device that were found at the turn of the last century after two thousand years in the Aegean Sea, and have long been one of the great mysteries of science.

Freeth, a tall, taciturn man with a deep, rumbling voice, had been a mathematician at Bristol University, taking a Ph.D. in set theory, a branch of mathematical logic. He had drifted away from the academy, however, and spent most of his career making films, many of them with scientific themes. The Antikythera Mechanism, which he had first heard about some five years earlier, had rekindled his undergraduate love of math and logic and problem-solving, and he had all but abandoned his film career in the course of investigating it. He was the latest in a long line of men who have made solving the mystery of the Mechanism their life’s work. Another British researcher, Michael Wright, who has studied the Mechanism for more than twenty years, was coincidentally due to arrive in Athens before the Bladerunner had finished its work. But Wright wasn’t part of the research project, and his arrival was anticipated with some trepidation.

It had been Freeth’s idea to contact X-Tek in the hope of finding a high-resolution, three-dimensional X-ray technology to see inside the fragments of the Mechanism. As it happened, the company was working on a prototype of a CAT-scan machine that would use computer tomography to make 3-D X-rays of the blades inside airplane turbines, for safety inspections. Roger Hadland, X-Tek’s owner and chief engineer, was interested in Freeth’s proposal, and he and his staff developed new technology for the project.

After the lead-lined machine was installed inside the museum, technicians spent another day attaching the peripheral equipment. At last, everything was ready. The first piece to be examined, Fragment D, was placed on the Bladerunner’s turntable. It was only about an inch and a half around—much smaller than Fragment A, the largest piece, which measures about six and a half inches across—and it looked like just a small greenish rock, or possibly a lump of coral. It was heavily corroded and calcified—the parts of the Mechanism almost indistinguishable from the petrified sea slime that surrounded them. Conservationists couldn’t clean off any more of the corroded material without damaging the artifact, and it was hoped that the latest in modern technology would reveal the ancient technology inside.

Read the rest on the New Yorker.