I find myself frequently fascinated by the cycles of life, within life, and in how history does indeed repeat itself. Ever more fascinating is how every now and again someone stands out as seeming to have a handle on making history, rather than just becoming a part of it. It’s a skill that very few seem to harness today [though they do exist], but was very much a part of normalcy in ancient times.
Cycles of time were well understood – and manipulated – by the Maya, the Egyptians, and others; but among the most interesting would be the Greeks.In all my worldly travels, my brief visit to Greece in 2014 still resonates in a special way. It may well have been our mission – to continue the search for clues about the Antikythera Mechanism. The Mechanism was originally brought into Western limelight by Cousteau, however has been more recently re-popularized by a collaborative spearhead by Dr. Brendan Foley from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in cooperation with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and other partners. While no new Mechanisms have been excavated, the allure of such discovery has substantiated ongoing fieldwork, along with much deeper analysis of the original Mechanism fragments that have been discovered more than a century ago.
A recent Smithsonian.com article by Jo Marchant described new theories that the Mechanism may have been used for astrological predictions, as well as the previously considered astronomical cycles. For a ‘technology’ that is 2000 years old to be so rich with poorly understood innovation really speaks to the intellectual capital of the inventor…the Greeks clearly have something to be proud of.
That pride is what struck me most about my 2014 visit. My role was seemingly insignificant – I ran the dive supervisor role for deployment of the Exosuit ADS at the Antikythera wreck site. We were hampered by weather for 20 days, which left only one short day of ADS diving. It was hardly a productive effort, but what struck me as most important was the clear expression of national pride bolstered when Hellenic Navy diver Fotis Lazarou became the first Greek national to dive the Exosuit at the wreck site.Rewind to 1901 and it was almost certainly this same national pride that resulted when Greek sponge divers first discovered the wreck site and artifacts went on to be recovered by the Hellenic Navy at that time. For a country that has had its share of major struggles in recent years, the Greek’s sense of community and pride that shows through when considering their national heritage is truly overwhelming.
We caught a brief glimpse of this national pride during training efforts at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution that preceded the expedition. Despite all the rigmarole of news media, sponsors, and catchers of limelight galore, it was again Greek heritage that stood out – representatives of the Greek Orthodox Church even visited Woods Hole to offer a blessing of the Exosuit before its maiden voyage!
The challenge in working Antikythera is the depth and location. Much of the wreck rides a 50 meter depth contour, which is by no means deep by today’s technical diving standards. However there are ‘targets’ in deeper water that warrant investigation, and for more extensive excavations at 50 meters, man-hours is the absolute limiting factor. I can envision ADS being a highly valuable tool or future Antikythera excavations – imagine that one 8-hour ADS dive would account for several days of collective bottom time conducted using conventional wet diving methods. Perhaps some day, that effort will be revisited…
While the Mechanism is thought to have originated from the ‘Island of Rhodes’, perhaps it is no coincidence that our roots are here in ‘Rhode Island’, and my recent inquisition into these cycles of time comes during the 2016 Olympics. Interestingly, the 4 year cycle of the Olympic games was derived from the Greeks, with the games falling every fourth year, concurrently with leap years. That four-year cycle is something we see throughout life – government elections, years in high school, years in college, years towards advanced degrees – and many other cycles that can be connected to the roots of ancient Greek democracy, and civics. The Antikythera Mechanism is believed to provide a calendar of sorts, and will undoubtedly reveal these four-year cycles tied to its many secrets.
Only time will tell…