Shortly after releasing the first “Star Wars” movie, George Lucas created the beloved character Indiana Jones starring Harrison Ford, starting with the archaeological action adventure film Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Its success led to two sequels, The Temple of Doom (1984) and The Last Crusade (1989). After a long hiatus, Dr Jones returned for The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), and now with The Dial of Destiny (2023). After suffering through the first two films of the last Star Wars trilogy, I cannot bring myself to watch another girl boss movie. And based on the trouncing the film has received by critics, neither are whole lot of other Indiana Jones fans.
In my humble estimation, only the original movie was especially noteworthy. The ark being boxed and buried in a federal warehouse provided the quintessential ending for Raiders, while neither Doom or Crusade was as satisfying to me. Doom begins by depicting Dr. Jones as so breathtakingly naïve as to accept a (allegedly) poisoned drink from Shanghai crime bosses and then believe that their antidote would be effective. Then he and his companions freefall from an aircraft in the Himalayas with a self-inflatable raft that had a sufficiently robust liner to survive a drop from several hundred feet without collapsing and throwing everyone out, followed by its falling off a cliff into rapids.
To add insult to injury, Dr. Jones attempts to decelerate a mining car on a track with only the soles of his boots. All these and other scenes dissipated my suspension of disbelief. After that, nothing made sense. Crusade, and for that matter Crystal Skull, had their moments, but simply reminded me that most sequels are comparable disappointments from their originals. Yes, yes, Terminator 2 (1991) and The Dark Knight (2008) are notable exceptions, but that merely proves the rule. And yes, Doom was technically a prequel, but that doesn’t alter the circumstances.
The Artifact in Indie's Latest Archeological Adventure
In all these Indiana Jones films, there’s a MacGuffin – a plot device that the protagonists chase after – the classic example being The Maltese Falcon (1941). In Raiders, the sought item is the Ark of the Covenant from ancient Israel. In Doom, it’s a sacred Hindu lingam stone. In Crusade, it’s the Holy Grail – Jesus’ cup at the Last Supper. In Crystal Skull, it’s a transparent anthropomorphic alien artifact, reminiscent of modern quartz carvings falsely attributed to South American natives. Finally, The Dial of Destiny chances an antikythera mechanism. Wait, what’s that?
Well, back in May of 1901, Greek sponge divers found an ancient Roman cargo shipwreck off the Aegean coast of Antikythera Island, where a considerable amount of amphoras were recovered. Also discovered was a peculiar artifact that was a corroded lump about three-hundred cubic inches in volume originally made from bronze and housed in a wooden case, that was dated to about 87 B.C. This object in Dial of Destiny references a misnomer – Antikythera identifies not a function, but rather the name of an island between the Hellenic Peloponnes and Crete where the artifact was found. This MacGuffin can presumably teleport a local region backward or forward in time, as is convenient in many fictional stories, unlike the genuine article that served as an astronomical calendar.
The artifact – comprising seven major portions and 75 minor fragments – contained thirty surviving gears, the largest of which was about five inches in diameter and originally had 223 teeth that corresponds to the Saros cycle of lunar eclipse alignment. A fixed 56-tooth gear at the center models solar and planetary rotation through the circular plate. These surviving remains constitute the earliest analog computer ever discovered, and provide a narrow insight into the mechanical and analytical capabilities of the ancients regarding astronomy and its modeling.
The rear plate provides Metonic (19-year solar-lunar calendar) and Saros (eclipse) dials, turned by a side crank that was connected to a crown gear. The front cover (substantially reconstructed by analysis) provides the eclipse dates for aligned pointers on the rear plate. Various researchers have analyzed the fragments, including Derek Price using X-ray imaging and careful measurements 73 years after its discovery. Despite the detailed efforts, the results proved unsatisfactory.
More recently, a research team under Tony Freeth produced a mathematical model published in Nature. Penetrating computer tomography scans reveal more lettering and numerical markings on various disks from which to construct gear ratios. The techniques and results from these findings are succinctly explained in an accompanying video presentation.
The toothed gears, circular disks, annular rings and slotted bars, together with inscriptional evidence reveal a model of the solar system among the nine outputs: Moon, Nodes, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Date. Additional markings on the Metonic dial identify periodic athletic games. Inscriptions also revealed factorizable numbers, which had been iterated by fifth century B.C. mathematician Parmenides and later incorporated by Plato in his Dialogues. These discoveries enabled the number of days in an epicycle to share prime numbers in order to reduce the gear count. For example, Mercury and Venus share the prime seventeen, while Mars, Jupiter and Saturn share the prime seven, enabling gears to be cut with tooth-counts as multiples of these primes.
An Illuminating Look into the Past and Our Future
Without the Antikythera mechanism, we would have no clue as to what ancient craftsmen could fashion under the instruction of innovative Greek mathematicians using Babylonian astronomical observations. Great repositories of information were lost from the destruction of the Alexandria library in the third century and reportedly again in the seventh century.
Had the technology evident from a portable cosmological calendar flourished more fully, perhaps humans might have begun an industrial revolution a millennium or two earlier. If only our ancestors had continued to accumulate knowledge, sparking a rudimentary understanding of thermodynamics and electromagnetism, poverty could be erased, instead of condemning our societies to groping about in blind paroxysms all around the world for centuries.
Preservation and expansion of such intricate knowledge cannot be taken for granted. The Antikythera mechanism vividly demonstrates that such gradually acquired capability was lost at least once before. Given the rabid anti-intellectualism exhibited by Antifa and other grievance agitators – which echo the violent spasms the wreaked havoc in China during their Cultural Revolution – catastrophic loss of our collective achievements seems far from unimaginable. The phrase “history doesn’t repeat itself – but it rhymes” – attributed to Mark Twain – comes to mind as a warning. On that score, we should remain vigilant against spasmodic nihilism of the Left.
Photo Credit- Encyclopedia Britanica