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Antique Roundup

December 29, 2006

Both a sky calculator from ancient Greece and steel from the ancient Middle East used some pretty advanced technologies.


An ancient Greek calculator. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A lack of microchips didn’t prevent Greeks living 2200 years ago from building an incredibly complex calculator. It used 37 bronze gears to calculate the motions of celestial bodies and predict eclipses. In the journal Nature, researchers report using an industrial CAT scanner to examine the device. Looking at how the device’s gears interacted allowed them to verify that it was used to track the heavens.

Also in Nature, a report on how medieval swordmakers in the Middle East unknowingly used nanotechnology to produce Damascus steel. The incredibly strong and flexible metal contains a fine layer of microscopic carbon tubes, each filled with an extremely hard carbon-steel compound. The microscopic structures formed as the steel was heated in the presence of various impurities.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.