An Ancient Computer

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Meccanismo_di_Antikytera.jpg

In 1900, sponge divers were retrieving relics from an ancient Greek shipwreck when archaeologist Spyridon Stais noticed a rock with a gear wheel in it. He had discovered the Antikythera mechanism, a remarkable clockwork computer that modeled the movements of heavenly objects as early as 87 B.C.

Using x-ray analysis, historians of science and technology have studied the mechanism closely and devised several working reconstructions. British orrery maker John Gleave believes the front dial tracked the sun and moon through the zodiac year against the Egyptian calendar. Others believe it modeled the motions of the sun, the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn — every celestial body known to the ancient Greeks.

That last interpretation is significant: In the first century B.C. Cicero had written of an instrument “recently constructed by our friend Poseidonius, which at each revolution reproduces the same motions of the sun, the moon and the five planets.” It may have been used to calculate celestial positions at the times of certain events or births.

Whatever the details, the device was remarkably sophisticated for its day: Among other things, it uses a differential gear, which historians had previously thought was invented in the 16th century. Complex Greek creations like this may have passed through the Arab world and eventually informed European clockmaking. What other ancient technology has been lost?

“Remarkable Inscription”

“The following singular inscription is to be seen carved on a tomb situated at the entrance of the church of San Salvador, in the city of Oviedo. The explanation is that the tomb was erected by a king named Silo, and the inscription is so written that it can be read 270 ways by beginning with the large S in the center. The words are Latin, SILO PRINCEPS FECIT.”

T I C E F S P E C N C E P S F E C I T
I C E F S P E C N I N C E P S F E C I
C E F S P E C N I R I N C E P S F E C
E F S P E C N I R P R I N C E P S F E
F S P E C N I R P O P R I N C E P S F
S P E C N I R P O L O P R I N C E P S
P C C N I R P O L I L O P R I N C E P
E E N I R P O L I S I L O P R I N C E
P E C N I R P O L I L O P R I N C E P
S P E C N I R P O L O P R I N C E P S
F S P E C N I R P O P R I N C E P S F
E F S P E C N I R P R I N C E P S F E
C E F S P E C N I R I N C E P S P E C
I C E F S P E C N I N C E P S F E C I
T I C E F S P E C N C E P S F E C I T

“Besides this singular inscription, the letters H. S. E. S. S. T. T. L. are also carved on the tomb, but of these no explanation is given. Silo, Prince of Oviedo, or King of the Asturias, succeeded Aurelius in 774, and died in 785. He was, therefore, a contemporary of Charlemagne. No doubt the above inscription was the composition of some ingenious and learned Spanish monk.”

Barkham Burroughs’ Encyclopaedia of Astounding Facts and Useful Information, 1889

11/02/2014 UPDATE: A reader points out that S.T.T.L. is the Roman equivalent of R.I.P.: Sit tibi terra levis means “may the earth rest lightly upon you.” “H.S.E.S. is a little less clear, but my conjecture is it stands for Hic Sepultus Est Silo = here Silo has been buried. H.S.E. is a not-uncommon abbreviation on tombstones.” (Thanks, Noah.)

How to Treat Tuberculosis

In January 1892, Rhode Island farmer George Brown buried his daughter Mercy. She had died of consumption, as had her mother and sister.

Two months later George’s son, Edwin, also became sick, and the farmer decided that one of his dead family members was returning from the grave as a vampire to cause his son’s illness.

So he dug up his daughter’s body, cut out her heart, mixed it into a potion, and told his son to drink it.

Edwin died two months later.

Dorchester Pot

The June 1851 issue of Scientific American reported that a zinc and silver vase had been blasted from solid rock 15 feet below the surface of Meeting House Hill in Dorchester, Mass. The bell-shaped vessel had floral designs inlaid with silver.

Experts at the time estimated it to be about 100,000 years old, which would obviously throw everything we know out the window.

Unfortunately, it disappeared after circulating through several museums. What’s the real story? Who knows?

Synchronicity

In 1805, the French writer Émile Deschamps was treated to some plum pudding by a stranger, Monsieur de Fontgibu.

Ten years later, Deschamps ordered plum pudding at a Paris restaurant, but the waiter told him the last dish had already been served to another customer — to M. de Fontgibu, as it turned out.

Seventeen years after that, in 1832, Deschamps was once again offered plum pudding, and he told his friends about the strange coincidence. At that moment, M. de Fontgibu entered the room by mistake.

“Three times in my life have I eaten plum pudding, and three times have I seen M. de Fortgibu!” Deschamps exclaimed. “A fourth time I should feel capable of anything … or capable of nothing!”

A Field of Flames

Here’s one explanation for crop circles:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Hertforshire_Mowing_Devil.gif

This English woodcut pamphlet was published in 1678. It tells of a farmer who swore he would rather have the devil mow his field than pay the high price demanded by a laborer.

According to the pamphlet, that night his field appeared to be in flames, and the next morning it was found to be mowed to supernatural perfection.

Maybe so, but if that’s what causes these things, the devil’s been getting awfully fancy lately:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:CropCircleSwirl.jpeg

“Mister Eat-Everything”

France’s Michel Lotito, better known as Monsieur Mangetout, eats metal and glass for a living. He began eating unusual materials compulsively as a child and has made it into a career, performing publicly since 1966.

Thanks to an unusually thick stomach lining, Mangetout can safely consume 2 pounds of metal a day with no ill effects. Generally he cuts large items — bicycles, television sets, shopping carts, a coffin — into 1-kilogram pieces, which he washes down with mineral oil and plenty of water.

In 1978 he started eating a small plane, a Cessna 150. He finished it in 1980.

Pareidolia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Canadiandollar_devilshead.gif

Pareidolia is the experience of “seeing” something in a stimulus that’s simply vague and random.

You’ve felt it if you’ve ever seen images of animals or faces in clouds, or the man in the moon, or heard messages when records are played in reverse. It’s the basis for the Rorschach inkblot test.

This is a portrait of Elizabeth II as it appeared on the 1954 series Canadian dollar bill. So many people thought they saw the face of the devil in the queen’s hair that the bills were eventually withdrawn from circulation.

There’s nothing there — the portrait was adapted from a photograph.

Sheep Rising

A tremendous blizzard in January 1978 buried a flock of sheep under a snowdrift in Sutherland, Highland, Scotland.

Weeks later, after digging out 16 dead sheep, Alex Maclellan found one ewe still alive. Its hot breath had created air holes in the snow, and it had gnawed its own wool for protein.

It had survived that way for 50 days.

Nice Try

From Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine by George M. Gould and Walter L. Pyle, 1896:

A convict at Brest put up his rectum a box of tools. Symptoms of vomiting, meteorism, etc., began, and became more violent until the seventh day, when he died.

After death, there was found in the transverse colon, a cylindric or conic box, made of sheet iron, covered with skin to protect the rectum and, doubtless, to aid expulsion. It was six inches long and five inches broad and weighed 22 ounces.

It contained a piece of gunbarrel four inches long, a mother-screw steel, a screw-driver, a saw of steel for cutting wood four inches long, another saw for cutting metal, a boring syringe, a prismatic file, a half-franc piece and four one-franc pieces tied together with thread, a piece of thread, and a piece of tallow, the latter presumably for greasing the instruments.

“On investigation it was found that these conic cases were of common use, and were always thrust up the rectum base first,” the authors explain. “In excitement this prisoner had pushed the conic end up first, thus rendering expulsion almost impossible.”