Antikythera Mechanism

The oldest mechanical device ever found is called the Antikythera Mechanism. The complexity and high function in this device establishes that the Greeks were well advanced as mechanical time keepers.


These days cell phones are our most common time keepers. These devices have many functions. Time keeping is but a small part of what they can do.

For anyone setting out to build a mechanical clock, the clock mechanism itself is likely to be a mass produced quartz movement made in China. These are inexpensive and easy to obtain.

In ancient times, clock motors were not so easy to find. Any sort of mechanical clock had to be built by hand from very basic materials.

Was this possible in New Testament times? Was there enough skill in that era that someone could build a mechanical clock?

The answer to this question is yes.

How do we know this?

Because in the early 1900s a strange mechanical device was pulled up from a shipwreck. That device resembled in many ways a modern mechanical clock. There was an important difference from a mechanical clock. It had enough intricate gearing to predict the movements of the moon and the known planets.

This was far more complicated than the gearing needed just for measuring the hours of the day. Modern astronomy drove the need for modern mechanical clocks. Presumably, ancient astronomy also drove the ancient development of mechanical clocks. This strange device likely came from from an astronomical community that was also telling accurate time.

Antikythera Video Introduction

Here is a basic introduction video if the Antikythera device is new to you.

This particular discovery changed our understanding of what level of technology was available in the ancient world. Previously, the ancient Greeks were thought to have had a lower level of technology.

Technical Details

That first video does not explain the specific technology used in that ancient device. The next video explains more. The basic question the next video explores is what would it take to make a modern reproduction of that same device.

Reproducing such a device is not exactly our point here on Bible Clocks, but the following view explains the ancient fabrication techniques of the Antikythera device. This does matter because it establishes what fabrication techniques were available and how modern techniques are different.

Key Differences

So what are the differences in fabrication techniques?

Riveting and soldering were both used in the ancient world instead of the modern use of screws.

Screws are mass produced and cheep. Without the use of screws the making of any device like this would have been more like a craft creation. Each copy of any sort of device was unique.

These devices were thus more difficult and time consuming to build than would be done in a modern shop making the same device out of the same materials.

Triangular gear teeth were used instead of Convoluted gear teeth.

Convoluted gear teeth were invented to reduce gear friction to a minimum in modern mechanical clocks. Convoluted gear teeth are used in all modern geared systems to minimize gear wear over time.

Triangular gears work, but tend to have increased friction and increased wear.

In the Antikythera device, the triangular teeth had some wear so the device itself probably had regular use.

For actual mechanical clocks of the time, the power source would have had to be stronger than that used in modern mechanical clocks.

One final point from the video above is that the direction of energy through the gear train used in the Antikythera device lends itself to stripping out of gears. Modern mechanical clocks are designed to prevent this.

None of these differences fundamentally prevent the ancient world from having access to mechanical time keeping devices. They could have been available to anyone able to afford what was likely an expensive device.

The Antikythera mechanism was not a running clock. All this does for our study is show the technology for advance geared systems existed in the ancient world. We turn next to ancient clocks themselves. We start with water clocks.