A Portable Cosmos

Alexander Jones

Jones, professor of the history of exact sciences in antiquity at NYU, exhaustively analyzes the famed Antikythera mechanism, a mysterious bronze astronomical device of ancient Greek origins that many modern commentators thought exceeded the technological capabilities of its time. After recounting how it was found in 1901, Jones discusses the investigations and initial theories about the mechanism’s nature and origins. With this foundation set, he delves into its historical context, addressing culture, religion, astronomy, technology, and more. These chapters, which make up the book’s bulk, provide a surprisingly vivid picture of Mediterranean and Mesopotamian cultures at the time of the mechanism’s likely creation, around 200 B.C.E., and dispel the myth that the mechanism was somehow ahead of its time by explaining the apparent reasons for its multiple functions, which include a zodiac scale, an Egyptian calendar scale, a Moon phase display, and means to track planetary motion. Moreover, Jones includes painstaking technical descriptions and diagrams of the materials, construction, and probable inner workings of the mechanism, making clear that the scientific knowledge and craftsmanship of the day was sufficient for its design and manufacture. Though Jones’s dense and straightforward prose makes this closer to a textbook than a popular science book, his comprehensive look at the Antikythera mechanism and its context will suit readers interested in the mechanism or the history of science in general.

Oxford University Press