Harrison Ford returns to the role of the legendary hero archaeologist in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny and this time, he’s searching for a strange and powerful object. In the 1940s, Indiana Jones helps his friend Basil stop the Nazis from acquiring a mysterious artifact called the Dial of Destiny. Twenty-five years later, Indy is retired from adventuring and a full-time professor. But when the mystical mechanism pops up again, he’s pulled out of adventure retirement for one last ride.

Throughout the Indiana Jones franchise, Indy has chased a MacGuffin in every movie. Some have been based in history or legend, such as the Holy Grail, or crystal skulls. Even the mystical stone in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is loosely fashioned on the lingam stones of Hindu culture. Even so, the Dial of Destiny in the latest movie seems like a real stretch in regard to the bounds of realism. So it may come as a surprise to learn the dial is based on a real-life artifact, one of the most mysterious and puzzling that archaeologists have ever uncovered.

The Dial of Destiny Is Based On The Real Antikythera Mechanism

The real Antikythera mechanism

In 1900, a Greek captain and his crew of sponge divers discovered the wreckage of an ancient Roman ship off Point Glyphadia on the Greek island of Antikythera. A year later, a haul of cargo and various artifacts were retrieved from the wreckage. One of those artifacts was a strange mechanism with a dial and gears that came to be known as the Antikythera mechanism. It was among a cache that included marble sculptures, jewels, coins, and other fascinating finds, so at first, the true uniqueness of the Antikythera mechanism went unnoticed.

In 1902, however, it was discovered that that seeming lump of bronze and wood was not, in fact, a mere misshapen rock, but an actual mechanism that had a gear installed. Initially, it was believed to be an astronomical clock, but no one could agree and the matter was dropped, the Antikythera mechanism forgotten for decades. In 1971, British scientific historian  Derek J. de Solla Price and Greek nuclear physicist Charalampos Karakalos did a comprehensive X-ray and made gamma images of the 82 fragments of the mechanism that had thus far been retrieved. It revealed more of the mechanism’s secrets, though it’s still hard to definitively say what the Antikythera mechanism is with pieces of it still missing, presumably forever.

So, What Is The Antikythera Mechanism?

Indiana Jones’ Dial of Destiny

While it may not be an actual time-travel device, as it is in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the real Antikythera mechanism is nonetheless a wonder. It’s considered now by historians and scholars to be the world’s first analog computer, a complex mechanism capable of calculating the positions of astronomical bodies, eclipses, and astronomical phenomena decades in advance, as well as specific cultural events that happened in cyclical groups. Think of it as the first predictive algorithm ever assembled, just manual.

It’s astounding considering the era in which the Antikythera mechanism was made. While historians can’t agree on an exact date of creation, or exactly who built it, it’s speculated that the mechanism was created no later than around 200 B.C. Even with fluctuations of decades, it was certainly constructed in the Hellenistic period of Greece. Considering mechanisms of equal complexity and accuracy would not be created again until the early half of the 14th century, the Antikythera mechanism is a miracle unto itself.

How Does The Antikythera Mechanism Work?

A suggested reconstruction of the Antikythera mechanism

The Antikythera mechanism becomes even more of a wonder when one considers the complexity and precision of how it worked. It has multiple faces, all interconnected by a complicated system of gears. The front face has two dials that sit nested inside one another. The outer circle consists of the 12 zodiac signs marked off in equal 30-degree sections, according to Babylonian custom. This ring is fixed. The inner circle, which is moveable, consists of the days and months of the Sothic Egyptian calendar, translated into Greek. The mechanism was turned with a small crank, which was then set to the correct day. Adjustments could then be made, and when the crank was turned again, the interlocking gears inside would then rotate and simultaneously calculate the position of the sun and moon, which then showed the moon phase and upcoming eclipses, calendar cycles, and, historians believe, the locations of the known planets. While it took some calculation and initial manual setting, the Antikythera mechanism could be used to predict astronomical events years in the future. It may be math and not magic, but ultimately the Antikythera mechanism is truly a dial of destiny.

Get tickets to Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.

  • Editorial