• Prologue

    "In a corner of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens is something that doesn’t fit. It is nothing like the classical Greek statues and vases that fill the rest of the echoing hall. Three flat pieces of what looks like mouldy, green cardboard are delicately suspended inside a glass case. Within each piece, layers of what was once metal have been squashed together and are now covered with corrosion products – from the whitish green of tin oxide to the dark bluish green of copper chloride. They’ve been under the sea for 2,000 years, and it shows. Next to these strange items an X-ray image shows what’s hidden inside. Beneath the ancient, calcified surfaces, delicate cogwheels of all sizes are jostling for space, their triangular teeth so perfectly formed it seems that any second they might start clicking round. The design of the mechanism is modern and instantly recognisable. It looks just like the inside of an alarm clock."

  • 1.I see dead people

    "Kontos pulled the dripping suit off his gabbling friend and donned it himself to investigate. After he had dropped through the cold water for a couple of minutes, a tumbled mass of figures, parallel to the shore and about 50 metres long, loomed out of the blue. They weren’t corpses but statues – corroded and encrusted with marine sediment, yet for the most part clearly recognisable. Some were marble, while the shafts of sunlight peentrated just deep enough to reveal that others had a green tint: the tell-tale sign of ancient bronze. As his boots sank into the slanting mud and his air hose shaked up through the water to the dim shadow of the boat suspended far above, Kontos struggled to keep his breathing steady. This wreck had been carrying treasure."

  • 2.An impossible find

    "It couldn’t be. The pieces crumbling in Stais’s hands had to be 2,000 years old and nothing like that had ever been found from antiquity. The ancient Greeks (or anyone else around at the time) weren’t supposed to have had complex scientific instruments, or even, according to many scholars any proper science at all. And clockwork wasn’t supposed to have been invented until the appearance of, well, clocks, in Medieval Europe more than a thousand years later. It’s hard to overestimate the uniqueness of the find. Before the Antikythera mechanism, not one single gearwheel had ever been found from antiquity, nor indeed any example of an accurate pointer or scale. Apart from the Antikythera mechanism, they still haven’t."

  • 3.Treasures of war

    "When Pompey returned to Rome in 61 BC he held the greatest triumphal parade in the city’s history; so huge that the spoils were carried into the harbour on 700 ships and it took days for the spectacle to pass through the streets. Placards inscribed with the names of the many lands he had conquered were followed by his troops, royal prisoners, spoils from the raided cities, exotic animals from his travels, and gold and silver statues of his dead enemies. It didn’t all go as Pompey had hoped, though. According to the ancient historian Plutarch he had planned to enter the city on a gem-studded chariot drawn by four elephants that he’d brought back from Africa. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t fit through the city gates and he had to switch to horses at the last minute."

  • 4.Rewriting history

    "This extraordinary find diverted Price yet again, nudging him round one more twist in the path that was to lead to Athens, as he decided to specialise in the history of astronomical instruments. More than any other type of instrument, he was starting to realise that the earliest scientific devices related to the heavens – the equatorium, and before that the astrolabe, and the sundial. These were the devices that would lead him to the beginning of the instrument-makers’ story. They told him that stretching back centuries, people had looked to the dancing lights in the sky and felt the same urge as he did – to measure, to understand, and to predict. He wanted to know where it came from, the knowledge encoded in these instruments, and to trace this will to understand that connects hundreds of generations of human beings who have wondered at the passage of the stars."

  • 5.A heroic reconstruction

    "Breathing softly in the dim glow of the safelight, Karakalos took the transparent, green-tinted film and delicately placed it into a bath of developing solution; this would convert the exposed silver ions into black, metallic silver atoms. And there it was. A picture that made 2,000 years pass in an instant. As the film turned black he saw jagged green shapes left behind; the outlines of precisely cut gearwheels that tumbled into view one on top of the other, rendering the sophisticated handiwork of the long-dead creator visible at last."

  • 6.Moon in a box

    "Judith Field burst triumphantly into Michael Wright’s cluttered office. It was lunchtime at the Science Museum in London and, as usual, Wright was eating sandwiches at his desk and catching up on his reading. Wright looked after the museum’s engineering collection and Field was his opposite number, responsible for its astronomical instruments. She often used to come and sit in his office, drinking his tea (he made very good tea) and trying to outsmart him. But today was different, Wright could see that. Today, she really had something special. She reached into a padded envelope that she had been carrying, pulled out four battered pieces of metal and placed them on the desk in front of him with a flourish. “What do you think of that?!"

  • 7.Mechanic’s workshop

    "October comes and Wright arrives in Athens with his finished model, grimly triumphant as his competitors complete their imaging. On the day of his talk he demonstrates the workings of his device to a small but captivated audience. He turns the handle on the side like a magician and there’s a hush as time passes before everyone’s eyes, just a soft clicking sound as the Moon traces undulating circles through a miniature sky, cycling from black to silver as the golden Sun glides slowly round and the planets meander back and forth, their seemingly random paths guided by a hidden clockwork order. Wright sees three decades of his life passing as the heavenly cycles run their course, from the young curator who was once captivated by Price’s work and wished it were his own, to the man he is now, standing here with the Antikythera mechanism finally recreated and working again for the first time in 2,000 years."

  • 8.The new boys

    "There was silence. The surface images from Tom Malzbender’s team had been stunning, but everyone knew that for the project to be a success they needed to see inside; they needed to see the internal workings. Andrew Ramsey tapped his computer keyboard to scroll down through the depth of the fragment. At first all they could see was a blur, but then a crackling sharp gearwheel emerged from the fuzz, as if being hauled up out of grey sand. It was better than any of them had dared hope. The letters ‘ME’ had been scratched into the side of the wheel. It was like a signal from the past, an ‘I WOZ ERE’ from 2,000 years ago. Suddenly, they felt a direct, almost physical conncection with this ancient machine, and with whoever had carved those letters so long ago. Then Tony Freeth started to laugh. ‘Somebody email Mike and tell him we’ve found a gearwheel with his initials on!"

  • 9.A stunning idea

    "Agamemnon Tselikas (Memos to his friends) is a large but gentle bear of a man, excellent company and fond of life’s pleasures. But for three months, he spends his evenings alone with images of the Antikythera mechanism, working in silence every night from around eleven until the early hours of the morning. The letters are tiny, some less than two millimetres high, and all squashed together without spaces with no clue as to where each word starts and finishes. He drinks thick, black Greek coffee as he scrolls from one slide to another, trying to get inside the head of the machine’s maker, so that he can decipher his words. Almost immediately, the results start to flow."

  • 10.Old man of Syracuse

    "As well as providing the technology and skills that ultimately helped to trigger the Industrial Revolution, these mechanical devices were important in changing how people thought about the universe. Instead of representing an animate cosmos ruled by a guiding life force, scientists started to think of an inert, mechanistic universe that followed natural physical laws. The Antikythera mechanism was originally meant as a celebration of the heavens. But as clocks developed, the ability to measure minutes, seconds and even shorter time periods finally broke our ties with the sky. We’re free, like no other civilisation has been, from the cycles of the heavens – the first people to be ruled by our watches and not by the Sun."

  • Epilogue

    "All of the researchers hope that in the future new pieces of evidence will be discovered. It’s possible that more missing fragments of the Antikythera mechanism might be found at the Athens museum, lying unrecognised in the stores since they were brought up from the sunken ship in 1901. The wreck, too, might yet yield more secrets. But the richest source of new information may turn out to be old Islamic manuscripts. Work to interpret these is in its infancy and there are thousands of manuscripts that have never been catalogued, let alone read."