Digital modeling of ancient technology: the Antikythera Mechanism

This project will recruit a student with digital modeling skills and an appreciation for mechanical technology to build a functioning digital replica of the Antikythera Mechanism, a sophisticated ancient Greek astronomical model.

Department: Classics

Supervised by: Dr Matthew Nicholls

The Placement Project

This project will create a functioning digital model of a unique piece of ancient Greek technology. The remains of the Antikythera Mechanism, a 2nd C BC bronze astronomical model with sophisticated internal cogwheels and displays, has been a focus of scholarly attention since its discovery on the sea floor in the 20th century. Dr Matthew Nicholls intends to collaborate with Michael Wright, formerly curator of mechanical instruments at the London Science Museum and now one of the UK’s foremost experts on the Mechanism. Mr Wright, in London, has made a detailed study of the Mechanism based on inspection and X-ray scans of the remaining fragments, which has led to a functioning physical replica of the machine. He now seeks to make a digital reconstruction to act as an illustration of and testbed for his latest findings. Dr Nicholls’ expertise in digital modeling includes a previous successful UROP placement working on his award-winning architectural model of ancient Rome. He is now seeking to extend the scope of his activities in this exciting field by recruiting a student research assistant to help design and create this digital model of the Antikythera Mechanism in collaboration with Michael Wright. It is intended that the model will illustrate the detailed inner workings of the machine in a way impossible by other media, since it will depict dynamic animation of the function of individual components and entire gear trains within the Mechanism’s inner workings, showing how they relate to the displays on the exterior surfaces of the machine.


The student will be asked i) To collaborate with MCN and MW on producing a detailed ‘parts list’ of components, with accurate dimensions and descriptions of function. ii) To make accurate scaled digital models of these components, probably using Cinema 4D and Google Sketchup iii) To collaborate on the creation of a dynamic model using these components to create an accurate simulation of the functioning of the mechanism, in such a way that applying a rotational input to the model of the device produces a realistic range of outputs on its display indicators. iv) To help generate an animation or animations from this finished model. v) To assist in the initial dissemination of findings as time permits after the completion of the model, possibly through the creation of web content using the University CMS.

Skills, knowledge and experience required

The student must possess: i) Computer literacy and skills of a very high order. ii) In particular, experience in computer modeling and animation software, ideally of Google SketchUp and Cinema 4D. iii) If lacking ability in those software packages, then the proven ability to learn the requisite new software skills quickly (e.g. through use of online tutorials and experimentation) and the willingness to get up to speed in this area before the formal start of the project. iv) The ability to share the initiative in the planning and execution of a complicated process, identifying and solving problems as they arise. v) A degree of mechanical/mathematical aptitude and excellent three-dimensional spatial awareness: the task will involve the calculation of a sequence of movements through complicated sets of parallel gear trains. This will involve at least high arithmetical skills and in all likelihood the use of algebra. vi) Experience in web content creation would be an advantage to allow the fulfillment of the online publication(s) envisaged above.

Skills which will be developed during the placement

The placement will enable the selected student to develop a high order of valuable transferable skills in digital modeling software, including Google SketchUp and Cinema 4D. The placement will also involve the application of this ability to an existing body of theoretical and practical knowledge of ancient Greek astronomical mathematics and in particular the surviving fragments of the Antikythera Mechanism, which is the focus of intense scholarly activity and debate. It is therefore expected that the construction of this model will lead to a publication in its own right, in which the student will be a named co-author, and will be used to support future research and popular publications/media outputs. The successful applicant will gain the chance to work with a leading international expert on this fascinating mechanism and with a leading proponent of the use of digital modeling in Classics, leading to the creation of a worthwhile and long-lasting digital tool. He or she will be involved in the design and execution of a complicated digital reconstruction project from the ground up, which will involve problem-solving skills, project design, and individual and collaborative working with real scope for personal contributions as the project develops. The knowledge gained may well also be of direct use for his or her third year study, depending on degree programme. All of this will offer tremendous scope for development to the successful candidate, as I have already demonstrated in previous successful TLDF and UROP digital projects which have involved student assistance in digital content creation.

Place of Work

HumSS Building, Whiteknights Campus

Hours of Work


Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Friday 13 July 2012 - Thursday 23 August 2012

How to Apply

Initial application will be by covering letter, including a statement of proficiency in the relevant software and, where applicable, the submission of a sample of previous work.Interviews will be held with MCN and at least one other member of academic staff, and shortlisted candidates may (depending on the field) be invited to demonstrate their proficiency in the software concerned by carrying out a set task in a defined period of time (e.g. the manufacture of a simple cog wheel shape).

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