by Paul Curzon, Queen Mary University of London
Cunning contraptions date back to ancient civilisations.
People have always been fascinated by automata: robot-style contraptions allowing inanimate animal and human figures to move, long before computers could take the place of a brain.
Records show they were created in ancient Egypt, China, and Greece. In the renaissance Leonardo designed them for entertainment, and more recently magicians have bedazzled audiences with them.
The island of Rhodes was a centre for mechanical engineering in Ancient Greek times, and the Greeks were great inventors who loved automata. According to an Ode by Pindar the island was covered with automata:
The animated figures stand.
Adorning every public street.
And seem to breathe in stone,
Or move their marble feet.Pindar
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This article was funded by UKRI, through Professor Ursula Martin’s grant EP/K040251/2 and grant EP/W033615/1.