On the epoch of the Antikythera mechanism and its eclipse predictor
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The eclipse predictor (or Saros dial) of the Antikythera mechanism provides a wealth of astronomical information and offers practically the only possibility for a close astronomical dating of the mechanism. We apply a series of constraints, in a sort of sieve of Eratosthenes, to sequentially eliminate possibilities for the epoch date. We find that the solar eclipse of month 13 of the Saros dial almost certainly belongs to solar Saros series 44. And the eclipse predictor would work best if the full Moon of month 1 of the Saros dial corresponds to May 12, 205 BCE, with the exeligmos dial set at 0. We also examine some possibilities for the theory that underlies the eclipse times on the Saros dial and find that a Babylonian-style arithmetical scheme employing an equation of center and daily velocities would match the inscribed times of day quite well. Indeed, an arithmetic scheme for the eclipse times matches the evidence somewhat better than does a trigonometric model.
We are grateful to James Bernhard for a discussion of statistical issues. Alexander Jones generously shared preliminary results of his own unpublished research which disclosed the existence of a lunar equation of center embedded in the Antikythera mechanism eclipse times. This turned out to be crucial for our project—it is the lunar anomaly that allows one to unambiguously identify a particular solar Saros series. Dennis Duke gave valuable help in calculation and programming. We thank John Steele for answering our questions about the Babylonian Saros schemes. We thank Paul Iversen and John Morgan for their lively and helpful discussion of previous versions of the paper. The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project has, as always, been extremely generous in sharing images and data. James Evans expresses his thanks to the University of Puget Sound for research funds that helped make this work possible. Christián Carman would like to express his thanks for the support of Research Project PICT-2010-0319 of the Agencia Nacional de Promoción Científica y Tecnológica of Argentina. While we were in the last stages of completing our manuscript, an article by Tony Freeth was published that focuses on some of the same issues that we have studied (Freeth 2014), but it appeared too late for us to make any use of it. The work published here is independent of Dr. Freeth’s study.
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