You may have heard the oldest computer ever built was Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine. But if we consider the definition to be “a machine built to calculate something,” then the date goes even further back. The earliest known machine built for such a task was the Antikythera Mechanism, discovered in 1901 in the wreckage of an ancient Greek ship.
Because the device comes from ancient Greece, not much is known about it, but we can tell from its design that it was made to calculate lunar, solar and planetary positions, and that it was incredibly accurate in doing so, not to mention highly advanced for its time period. Similar devices like it are not known to have existed in the civilized world for at least another thousand years.
Christián Carman of Argentina’s National University of Quilmes and James Evans of the University of Puget Sound recently examined the Antikythera Mechanism to determine a more accurate date for its creation. The device was originally thought to have been made around 125 BC, but Carman and Evans believe it may go back even further, to 205 BC. Their reason? They examined the device’s eclipse patterns, cross-referenced them with Babylonian records, and reached the date of 205 BC through the process of elimination.
This is, of course, not an exact science, so the Antikythera Mechanism might be even older. Scientists are still working on answers for how the device originated, or what else it could have potentially been used for.