THE mysteries of an astonishing ancient Greek device could soon be unlocked by Welsh scientists.
The Antikythera Mechanism, which is about the size of a shoe box and has about 30 moving parts, has been an enigma since being discovered in a shipwreck by sponge divers a century ago.
It has intrigued scientists and historians, and its markings suggest astronomical use.
But while experts say it is one of the most remarkable pieces of ancient technology ever discovered, they have struggled to find out exactly what the device was built for.
Now Professor Mike Edmunds of Cardiff University's astrophysics department is leading a team hoping to find out.
Using the latest technology, he hopes to examine more of the inscriptions than ever before - tantalising clues which he believes will show how the device was meant to work, and what its purpose was.
He said, "It's a remarkable object.
"Nothing else with the same level of technology is known to have been built for another millennium.
"What we're trying to find out is exactly what its purpose was.
"We know it's a mathematical calendrical device, which would seem to have something to do with the movements of planets and the sun, moon and stars.
"But we don't know whether it was an educational or display device, or used for predicting the future of astronomical movements.
"There's even a theory it could have been used to predict the future.
"What we're now able to do is look in much more detail at ancient Greek inscriptions which we couldn't previously see."
Technology being used to crack the inscriptions includes surface imaging developed by Hewlett Packard in America, as well as a new UK device which analyses three-dimensional topography.
The upshot of it all is that faint writing can now be detected.
However, it is still not an easy task.
Prof Edmunds said, "There's no way the museum in Athens is gong to let anybody move this, or even touch it, so to do the scanning we had to take all the equipment over there.
"One of the machines weighs nearly eight tonnes, so that was not easy.
"Then we've got to find out what it means. Ancient Greeks didn't have a gap between words, which can be quite hard when you're trying to work it out with a bit here and a bit there."
And he admitted it could be frustrating, saying, "If you bought something from Ikea with instructions as bad as this, you'd be straight on the phone demanding your money back.
"But that being said, I'd not take this back. It's amazing."
He believes it shows the Ancient Greeks were far more advanced than they were given credit for, even with their huge reputation for invention.
Prof Edmunds said, "It makes you wonder what they would have achieved if they'd have carried on, and the Romans hadn't taken over and put a stop to things.
"Would they have had a man on the moon by AD 300 without the Romans taking over?
"It sounds ridiculous, but if they were able to construct something as technically brilliant as this, it's not complete fantasy.
"The Romans were great at the stuff like building sewers and getting things done, but it was the Greeks who were the thinkers, and came up with real innovative technology."
The device was on a ship which sunk off the coast of Antikythera around 80 years before the birth of Christ.
It shows an understanding of the view that the sun is the centre of the solar system, which was not accepted again until Copernicus and Galileo proved it some 1,400 years later.
Prof Edmunds hopes to have answers to the riddle of the Anti- kythera Mechanism by the end of the year.
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