Washington, July 31 : A new research has indicated that a Greek machine, sometimes called the world's first computer, could have helped sports fans track the cyclical schedule of ancient athletic contests-including the Olympic games.
According to a report in National Geographic News, this particular Greek machine used what is known as the Antikythera mechanism.
Dating back to around 150 to 100 B.C., it is a complex amalgamation of bronze gears, dials, and text inscriptions that was created perhaps a thousand years before the next known device of similar sophistication.
Though many of its functions remain mysterious, previous research found that the device tracked and displayed the date, a 19-year calendar, and the positions of the sun and moon.
The mechanism even predicted eclipses-though with limited accuracy-using an 18-year eclipse cycle, called the Saros cycle, that was known to Babylonian astronomers centuries before the mechanism was built.
Now, members of an international collaboration called the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project have used high-resolution 3-D scans to examine "slices" of the mechanism's 82 fragments.
The scans allowed the team to read previously hidden text inscriptions that showed an unexpected feature: a dial for tracking the timing of the Panhellenic games.
"It really stood out as something that is not astronomy," said team member Alexander Jones, a classicist at New York University.
"It has nothing to do with the heavens or the planets. It's a clear sign that this thing wasn't just for scientific observation, it was to relate human institutions and human time to the heavens," he added.
Although the mechanism's moving parts no longer work, x-ray scans allowed scientists to piece together its layers of gear wheels and read some of the inscriptions around its dials.
The latest scans revealed previously unseen glyphs, including the word "Nemea," which refers to the site of the Nemean games, part of the Panhellenic games.
Further investigation found the place names of the three other great sporting events-Isthmia (Korinthos, or Corinth), Pythia (Delphi) and Olympia-inscribed around a four-part dial.
The 3-D x-rays allowed researchers for the first time to read the names of months inscribed on the device's 19-year calendar, revealing that they have Corinthian origins.
"Every Greek community had its own distinct calendar (and) they had different names for each month," Jones explained.
"Now that we can read the month names, we can say this is a calendar that comes from one of a number of places in the western Greek world, probably the island of Sicily (now part of Italy) or northwest Greece," he added.
"We were amazed by this discovery, but we still have a lot of other inscriptions to read," said team member Yanis Bitsakis, of the Center for History and Paleography in Athens. "They are fragmented in a giant jigsaw puzzle of 82 pieces," he added.