Monday, March 18, 2013

Knapsack 3-21

Notes from my Knapsack 3-21-13

Jeff Gill


Pieces scattered across the landscape



At just after 7:00 am on Wednesday, the Sun crossed the equator, and the vernal equinox marked the balance point for this half of the year, when day and night are equal, hence "equinox." This is the spring one, so not the autumnal but the vernal equinox.


Over a thousand years ago, at the Synod of Whitby, England joined the Roman method for calculating Easter, the great celebration of the Christian calendar. This meant that the Sunday of Easter would fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox. Next week we have a full moon, and on March 31st we have Easter, showing that St. Wilfrid's computation still governs our modern calendar, or at least our candy purchases.


Just over a two thousand years ago, a mysterious Greek workshop created an amazing bronze mechanism, about the size of a hat box, with gears and a crank. You could set the device to your current date, or any future (or former) date, and see on the analog display where the planets were, when the next Olympic or Pythian games would be held, and even calculate when eclipses would occur, along with the more everyday (or every year) events of solstices and equinoxes, and the phases of the moon.


The Antikythera Mechanism is the name of this object, discovered in dives on a Greek shipwreck that was carrying treasure and attractions to Rome for a parade to honor Julius Caesar. The statuary was the main attraction, and the corroded pieces of bronze gears were considered an anomaly until their possible practical uses were considered in just the last few decades. Once looked at closely, these linked gears constitute a device that a lead scientist said "This device is extraordinary . . . The astronomy is exactly right . . . in terms of historic and scarcity value, I have to regard this mechanism as being more valuable than the Mona Lisa.."


Saturday, March 23, I'm going to meet with anyone who shows up at the Great Circle Museum at 9:00 am, and go for a hike looking for pieces of a device built about the same time as the Antikythera Mechanism, and only truly appreciated about the same time as scholars realized what that gadget was really good for.


Not small and compact and metal, but four square miles and made of earth – yet doing much the same sort of calculation and prediction and observation they were doing then in Greece. It's the Newark Earthworks, and while we know mostly the big pieces (Great Circle & Octagon), there are small bits and chunks which help us understand the whole all the better.


We'll start and end at the museum there just off of Rt. 79, walk a little over three miles, and cross lots of busy streets (at crosswalks, looking both ways!). But we will wrestle with mysteries of time and history and the cosmos as we wander. Come join us on this ongoing adventure!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's also the tour leader this time. Tell him where you found pieces fitting together at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

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