Bristol and Avon Archaeological Society

Archaeology Online: From Standing Stones to a Clockwork Universe

On Wednesday March 10, 2021
Mike Edmunds, Emeritus Professor of Astrophysics, Cardiff University

Starting with megalithic sites connected to the Sun and Moon as well as Babylonian and Greek studies of the stars and planets, this lecture will focus on the concept of a ‘mechanical’ Universe.

Ideas of this ‘mechanical’ Universe can be seen in the Antikythera Mechanism, a remarkable geared astronomical calculator probably made around 2,100 years ago. It was discovered on a shipwreck in the Mediterranean over 100 years ago and its functions were finally unravelled in the 21st century.

Early literature shows that models used to explain the Universe were around from 2200 BC – 500 AD, long before the conventional “scientific revolution” of Copernicus, Galileo and Newton. They continued to be used beyond 1605 AD when astronomer, mathematician and astrologer Kepler stated “my aim is to show that the heavenly machine… is a kind of clockwork”.

This lecture traces the history of mechanical models of the Universe through some 5,000 years. It shows how they were successfully used to understand and explain celestial phenomena and suggests why, with developments in 20th century physics, they may no longer be able to satisfy us.

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