The small contraption is encrusted with shells. Lost to the world from around 80 B.C. till about 1900, the Antikythera Mechanism stayed under water for about a thousand years (via boingboing). The technology for differential gears was lost with it and had to be reinvented in the 19th century. In the early 70ies of the 20th century the Antikythera mechanism was gamma rayed and scientists found out that it is a geared device to simulate the movements of sun and moon across the zodiac. You will find a java animation to give an idea how the machine might have worked. I blame light pollution for not knowing anything about the star signs. And the technical drawing looks just like wheels within wheels to me, but if you wish to know about gears, look here. What did it mean to the ancients to be able to simulate the flow of time at the crank of a wheel - apart from obvious benefits to their navigational skills? But I am just as much in awe of the scientists who figured it all out with nothing but blurry black and white photos. Now it won't be long till someone trys to build an approximation of the instrument. And then they may get the little ASIMO robot to turn it for you (via Kottke).
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