Noted with interest
- "A 2,000-year-old mechanical computer salvaged from a Roman
shipwreck has astounded scientists who have finally unravelled the
secrets of how the sophisticated device works.
The machine was lost among cargo in 65BC when the ship carrying it
sank in 42m of water off the coast of the Greek island of
Antikythera. By chance, in 1900, a sponge diver called Elias
Stadiatos discovered the wreck and recovered statues and other
artifacts from the site.
The machine first came to light when an archaeologist working on the
recovered objects noticed that a lump of rock had a gear wheel
embedded in it. Closer inspection of material brought up from the
stricken ship subsequently revealed 80 pieces of gear wheels, dials,
clock-like hands and a wooden and bronze casing bearing ancient
Since its discovery, scientists have been trying to reconstruct the
device, which is now known to be an astronomical calendar capable of
tracking with remarkable precision the position of the sun, several
heavenly bodies and the phases of the moon. Experts believe it to be
the earliest-known device to use gear wheels and by far the most
sophisticated object to be found from the ancient and medieval
Using modern computer x-ray tomography and high resolution surface
scanning, a team led by Mike Edmunds and Tony Freeth at Cardiff
University peered inside fragments of the crust-encased mechanism
and read the faintest inscriptions that once covered the outer
casing of the machine. Detailed imaging of the mechanism suggests it
dates back to 150-100 BC and had 37 gear wheels enabling it to
follow the movements of the moon and the sun through the zodiac,
predict eclipses and even recreate the irregular orbit of the moon.
The motion, known as the first lunar anomaly, was developed by the
astronomer Hipparcus of Rhodes in the 2nd century BC, and he may
have been consulted in the machine's construction, the scientists
Remarkably, scans showed the device uses a differential gear, which
was previously believed to have been invented in the 16th century.
The level of miniaturisation and complexity of its parts is
comparable to that of 18th century clocks.
Some researchers believe the machine, known as the Antikythera
Mechanism, may have been among other treasure looted from Rhodes
that was en route to Rome for a celebration staged by Julius Caesar.
One of the remaining mysteries is why the Greek technology invented
for the machine seemed to disappear. No other civilisation is
believed to have created anything as complex for another 1,000
years. One explanation could be that bronze was often recycled in
the period the device was made, so many artefacts from that time
have long ago been melted down and erased from the archaelogical
record. The fateful sinking of the ship carrying the Antikythera
Mechanism may have inadvertently preserved it. "This device is
extraordinary, the only thing of its kind," said Professor
Edmunds. "The astronomy is exactly right ... in terms of historic
and scarcity value, I have to regard this mechanism as being more
valuable than the Mona Lisa." The research, which appears in the
journal Nature today, was carried out with scientists at the
National Archaeological Museum of Athens where the mechanism is held
and the universities of Athens and Thessaloniki."
Knights Templar are rumoured to guard the Holy Grail
A new book, Processus contra Templarios, will be published by the Vatican's Secret Archive on Oct 25, and promises to restore the reputation of the Templars, whose leaders were burned as heretics when the order was dissolved in 1314.
The Knights Templar were a powerful and secretive group of warrior monks during the Middle Ages. Their secrecy has given birth to endless legends, including one that they guard the Holy Grail.
Recently, they have been featured in films including The Da Vinci Code and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
The Order was founded by Hugues de Payns, a French knight, after the First Crusade of 1099 to protect pilgrims on the road to Jerusalem. Its headquarters was the captured Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount, which lent the Templars their name.
But when Jerusalem fell to Muslim rule in 1244, rumours surfaced that the knights were heretics who worshipped idols in a secret initiation ceremony.
In 1307, King Philip IV "the Fair" of France, in desperate need of funds, ordered the arrest and torture of all Templars. After confessing various sins their leader, Jacques de Molay, was burnt at the stake.
Pope Clement V then dissolved the order and issued arrest warrants for all remaining members. Ever since, the Templars have been thought of as heretics.
The new book is based on a scrap of parchment discovered in the Vatican's secret archives in 2001 by Professor Barbara Frale. The long-lost document is a record of the trial of the Templars before Pope Clement, and ends with a papal absolution from all heresies.
Prof Frale said: "I could not believe it when I found it. The paper was put in the wrong archive in the 17th century."
The document, known as the Chinon parchment, reveals that the Templars had an initiation ceremony which involved "spitting on the cross", "denying Jesus" and kissing the lower back, navel and mouth of the man proposing them.
The Templars explained to Pope Clement that the initiation mimicked the humiliation that knights could suffer if they fell into the hands of the Saracens, while the kissing ceremony was a sign of their total obedience.
The Pope concluded that the entrance ritual was not truly blasphemous, as alleged by King Philip when he had the knights arrested. However, he was forced to dissolve the Order to keep peace with France and prevent a schism in the church.
"This is proof that the Templars were not heretics," said Prof Frale. "The Pope was obliged to ask pardon from the knights.
"For 700 years we have believed that the Templars died as cursed men, and this absolves them."