News Briefs 13-06-2016

Klaatu barada ni...ah, never mind. Go for it Gort.

Thanks to @tenebrisvacuum and @djp1974.

Quote of the Day:

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

Bertrand Russell

Newly Decoded Text on Antikythera Mechanism Gives New Insights Into the Functions of an 'Ancient Computer'

Antikythera Mechanism (Brett Seymour / WHOI)

The enigmatic 'Antikythera Mechanism' has been back in the news recently, with researchers unveiling the results of a decade-long project to decipher tiny inscriptions on the device. Previous research had largely focused on the mechanics of the 'ancient computer' that was salvaged from a shipwreck in 1901 by sponge divers.

The approximately 2100-year-old clock-like device could be used to calculate the movements of the Sun, Moon and planets, as well as predict eclipses, using a system of gearwheels, with the user able to 'travel' backwards and forwards in time by winding a handle.

In a special issue of the journal Almagest, researchers have broken down the various sections of the mechanism. Firstly, the front:

The bronze plate known as the “Front Cover” of the Antikythera Mechanism had inscriptions on its outside face... The texts give data on synodic cycles for the five planets, and it may be conjectured that lost lines described the behaviour of the Sun and Moon. The data strongly support the idea that planetary motions were displayed on the front face of the Mechanism using simple epicyclic or eccentric models. Previously unattested long and accurate period relations are given for Venus and Saturn, which are favourable for geared representation and probably of Greek, rather than Babylonian, origin.

The dial at the center of the front face of the Antikythera Mechanism was surrounded by two scales, one representing the zodiac, the other the Egyptian calendar year. The Zodiac Scale was inscribed with the names of the zodiacal signs as well as series of index letters in alphabetic order, while the Egyptian Calendar Scale was inscribed with the Greek names of the Egyptian months. In addition, two rectangular plates, the remains of which survived displaced from their original positions, bore an inscription, called the Parapegma Inscription, comprising an alphabetically indexed list of annually repeating astronomical events relating to the Sun and to fixed stars.

The new discoveries about the mechanism were made possible by modern imaging technologies ("computed tomography and polynomial textual mapping") being applied to the tiny engraved text found on it - some of which were barely 1mm in height!

Antikythera Mechanism text

On the back of the mechanism they found dials showing lunar calendars, a 'Games' (i.e. an athletic competition, such as the Olympic Games) calendar, and information about predicting eclipses:

The rear face of the Mechanism consisted of a rectangular "Back Plate" dominated by two large spiral dials. The upper five-turn Metonic Dial represented a 235-lunar-month calendrical cycle while the lower four-turn Saros Dial represented a 223-lunar-month eclipse prediction cycle. A subsidiary quadrant "Games" dial was situated inside the Metonic Dial, and a subsidiary three-sector Exeligmos Dial inside the Saros Dial. Preserved text inscribed around the dials (from the lower right quarter of the plate), probably representing about a quarter of the original inscription, provided further information associated with the predictions of eclipses.

The Metonic Dial inscriptions imply a calendrical scheme similar to that described by Geminos. It was intended to be a version of the calendar of Corinth as it was practiced either at Corinth itself or in some locality of Epirus. The Games dial shows six competitions, four Panhellenic (Olympics, Pythian, Isthmian, and Nemean) plus Naa (Dodona) and very probably Halieia (Rhodes).

On the Saros dial there were probably originally about 50 or 51 month cells with a lunar and/or solar eclipse prediction, each carrying a "glyph" and an index letter. Predicted eclipse times (in equinoctial hours) on the glyphs were calculated as times of true syzygy according to solar and lunar models that both involved anomaly, with the simple Exeligmos dial extending the predictions over three or more Saros cycles.

The additional information referred to by index letters from the Saros dial was grouped into paragraphs; that for lunar eclipse prediction probably ran down one side of the plate, and that for solar eclipse prediction down the other. Statements about direction may imply a meteorological aspect by referring to predictions of winds attending the eclipses. Five references to colour and size at eclipse are the only Greco-Roman source known to us that suggests prediction of eclipse colors, and might conceivably be linked with astrology.

The press have run with this 'astrology' attribution, but it's just a small part of what this research has uncovered, and even then I think it's still just a 'possibility' (note the wording above, "might conceivably").

The researchers also translated text that was inscribed on a plate - possibly a protective cover - that was found lying against the rear face of the Antikythera Mechanism in situ on the shipwreck. Only small fragments remain of this plate, but some of the text was, amazingly, preserved "as offsets on a layer of accreted matter that built up against it". It was found that the text on this plate provided "a systematic description of the dials, pointers, and other external features of the Mechanism, beginning with the front face and continuing with the rear face."

The best preserved passages include descriptions of features on lost parts of the Mechanism: a display of pointers bearing small spheres representing the Sun and planets on the front dial, and a dial on the upper back face representing a 76-year "Kallippic" calendrical cycle.

Lastly, the research team was able to use the 'data' that drove the device to guess at the likely location of the person who compiled it, finding that it corresponded to observations from a latitude of around 35 degrees - that ruled out Egypt the north of Greece, but matches the island of Rhodes.

It is hoped that ongoing excavation of the shipwreck will uncover more fragments of gears and inscriptions that could shed further light on this amazing contraption.

Related stories:

News Briefs 10-06-2016

"Not the wind, not the flag; mind is moving."

Quote of the Day:

“To understand clearly one has to have just one eye.”

The Gateless Gate

Monument Discovered 'Buried in Plain Sight' Near Ancient Citadel of Petra

Petra (Susana Hajer, CCSA licence)

In discussing the possibility of 'lost civilisations', the question is often asked - could evidence of such civilisations lie hidden beneath ground (and water), just out of our gaze? A new discovery shows that this is entirely possible (although the monument in this case is ascribed to an already known civilisation): a recently discovered paper has revealed that an enormous monument has been "hiding in plain sight" just a half a mile from the centre of one of the most important, and busy, archaeological treasures of the world: the World Heritage site of Petra.

The newly revealed structure consists of a 184-by-161-foot (about 56-by-49-meter) platform that encloses a slightly smaller platform originally paved with flagstones. The east side of the interior platform had been lined with a row of columns that once crowned a monumental staircase.

A small 28-by-28-foot (8.5-by-8.5-meter) building was centered north-south atop the interior platform and opened to the east, facing the staircase.

This enormous open platform, topped with a relatively small building and approached by a monumental facade, has no known parallels to any other structure in Petra. It most likely had a public, ceremonial function, which may make it the second largest elevated, dedicated display area yet known in Petra after the Monastery.

Archaeologists used high-resolution satellite imagery, aerial drone photography, and subsequent ground surveys to locate and explore the structure.

Paper: "Hiding in Plain Sight: The Discovery of a New Monumental Structure at Petra, Jordan, Using WorldView-1 and WorldView-2 Satellite Imagery"

News Briefs 09-06-2016

Change I could believe in...

Thanks @anomalistnews.

Quote of the Day:

You were born with wings. Why prefer to crawl through life?

Rumi

News Briefs 08-06-2016

What’s happening:

Quote of the Day:

All science is a function of the soul… in which all knowledge is rooted.

Erwin Schrödinger

Fish Takes A Jellyfish For A Ride

Fish jellyfish tim samuel byron bay

Yes, it's a fish. Driving a jellyfish.

When photographer Tim Samuel went for a dive in Byron Bay, he couldn't believe his eyes. "He was trapped in there, but controlled where the jellyfish was moving. The jellyfish would knock him off course though, and every now and then it would get stuck swimming in circles."

According to experts, juvenile trevally (which are delicious!) are known to seek protection in the wobbly embrace of jellyfish, their stingers keeping predators at bay. Whether the fish was stuck is another question. It's probably still out there, racing other juvenile fish in their jellyfish.

It's just one more freaky example of animals around the world riding each other!

Photos: Tim Samuel.

fish jellyfish tim samuel byron bay

News Briefs 07-06-2016

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Quote of the Day:

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.

G.K. Chesterton

Was Prince an 'Acquired Musical Savant'?

Prince on piano

For more fascinating stories like this one, like The Daily Grail on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. You can also support our writing via Patreon.

In April 2016, the world was rocked by news of the death of Prince Rogers Nelson. One of music’s - or more correctly, modern culture’s - biggest ever stars, Prince was a man of small stature whose shadow of influence was mind-boggling large. Immediate musical tributes from fellow 80s icon Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, country star Chris Stapleton, the cast of the hit musical Hamilton, and many others were testament to the respect the man and his music were held in.

For much of the public, Prince was a ‘star’; a hell of a performer who they might have seen playing guitar and piano in different music videos. What most musicians knew, however, was that Prince was - beyond his singing, his dancing, his band-leading skills, and his audio production talents - a skilled instrumentalist of the highest order, on not only the guitar and piano, but drums, bass guitar and more. Indeed, it is difficult for anybody who hasn’t played each particular instrument to truly appreciate how good he actually was.

It is silly to have debates about “was Prince a better guitarist than Clapton” or whoever - there are many ways to value a musician’s skill, whether it’s technical, historical knowledge, talent at improvising, or ability to play ‘for the song’ (among others). Let’s just say that Prince’s live band (on record, he often played all the instruments himself) was filled with musicians of the highest calibre - and if Prince ‘blind’-auditioned for each of the parts of his own band, he would probably have got all of the gigs based purely on his skill on guitar, bass, keyboard and drums.

The almost supernatural array of talents that Prince possessed are enough to have made many wonder as to how anyone could have assembled such a formidable skill-set - remembering that much of it was already fully formed at the time of his debut album, in his teens (go back and listen to his debut album For You, with tracks such as “Just as Long as We’re Together” sounding like an extremely tight band of talented musicians - but it’s all him).

Most accounts of Prince’s life put his skill set down to the twin factors of being a ‘functional orphan’ - he was largely abandoned by each of his parents in turn, and so is said to have spent much of his time playing music - who nevertheless inherited from those parents some serious musical acumen (his father was a jazz pianist, and his mother a singer). His unfortunate family situation - along with his extremely short stature (Prince only stood 5’2”) - are also claimed to have made him absolutely driven to prove himself to the world.

But could there have been an additional factor at work?

A Prodigious Musical Talent

Many people are musically talented. Many also become extremely proficient at their chosen instrument at a young age. However, Prince’s abilities, excelling on multiple instruments, verge on the spooky - the type of talent that gives rise to ‘down at the crossroads’ mythologies. He mastered a variety of instruments rapidly in his youth, to the point of being able to play all of the instruments on his debut album while still in his teens.

With his estate in confusion following his tragic passing, and his legendary control of material being posted online at least temporarily on hold, YouTube has been flooded with video examples of his wonderful talent (though how long they will remain is another question). Here are just a few isolated examples, among many: ... Read More »