Followup to my post on the centrifugal fan mechanism from 1907 :
OK, so it's probably obvious I have a strange thing for interesting and old mechanical things, particularly those connected with ancient astronomy or astrology. Anyone who's ever seen my coveted astrolabe (at right) that I picked up in the dark depths of the Marrakech souks should probably be as convinced as anyone of that.
I think because they are these incredibly great snapshots of the incredible ingenuity and cleverness of our ancestors and the simple genius of humanity in general in all its cultural forms. Because in a sense we don't learn from other cultures so much as appropriate them without learning and we tend to get seduced by more advanced technologies when simpler ones will do the same job better. And we underestimate the intelligence of both the past and other cultures in it (and in the world today).
A great indication of this is the Antikythera Mechanism from 87 BCE which is an incredibly intricate meshed gear computer that apparently was designed to make fairly precise astronomical calculations about the movements of the sun, moon and stars. The device is unique because no one had believed that the technology to create both the computer and the calculations had been available to the Greeks. Great article here from the author of an article in the American Mathematical Society.
The device is currently in on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens (where I missed it when I visited in 2001).
(via Boing Boing Blog)