The long-awaited Indiana Jones movie is finally out – Indiana Jones & the Dial of Destiny. I must confess that the first Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) was a part (although not the sole reason) of why I decided to become an archaeologist. Fans and movie critics alike all have a favorite, and a least-favorite “Indy” movie. This article is not a movie review, or analysis, however, one of the things that I have always loved about the Indiana Jones movies is that, archaeological artifacts (mythical and real) have been at the center of Indy’s adventures. Of course, as most archaeologists working in the field knows, the “methods” Indy uses to “procure” said artifacts are not exactly according to any known manual of field excavation. But, that is precisely why the movies are entertaining. Archaeological field work can be, and often is tedious [backbreaking] work, slowly and methodically excavating a site down to bedrock, which often takes years, even decades or more. The writers of the Indy films have certainly crafted some thrilling stories and adventures around a few legendary artifacts.


In the previous movies, Indy searches for, or steals:

  • The Ark of the Covenant – (see, Exodus 25:10-22, not YET discovered)
  • The Lost Sankara Stones – (based on Sivalinga Lingam, carved stones of the Hindu god, Shiva)
  • The Holy Grail – (the legendary cup which purportedly held the blood of Christ)
  • A Crystal Skull – (based on a crystal [Mayan?] skull unearthed by British explorer F.A. Mitchell-Hedges in 1924, in Belize)

In his latest adventure, Indy is after an artifact called, the Dial of Destiny. It is actually based on a genuine artifact discovered in 1900 by Greek sponge divers. It is called, the Antikythera Mechanism. In the movie, the artifact is used to travel back in time. In a sense, the genuine artifact can also do the same for those who study it. Really, all archaeological artifacts can do that, once they have been properly studied and analyzed.


What exactly is the REAL Dial of Destiny? What was its function?

In 1900 Greek sponge divers discovered one of the largest and most well-preserved shipwrecks of classical antiquity off the small Greek island of Antikythera. Scattered on the seafloor were elegantly sculpted arms, legs, and busts as well as a plethora of other artifacts, which included marble & bronze statues, pottery, glassware, jewelry, and coins. Archaeologists eventually determined that the ship was a large merchant ship, very possibly headed for the Roman seaport of Ostia where goods and treasures from Greece poured into Rome. Coins recovered by the famous French oceanographer, Jacques Cousteau, helped archaeologists eventually determine that the ship likely sank sometime in the first century B.C..

Among the hundreds of artifacts recovered from the ship, was a heavily corroded clump of wood and metal. As the wood dried, the conglomerate cracked open revealing gears and wheels inside. The peculiar gears piqued the interest of the archaeologists in 1902. It wasn’t until around 70 years later, however, until scholars began to peer deeper inside the inner workings of the mysterious lump. In 1971 British science historian, Derek de Solla Price, and Greek nuclear physicist Charalampos Karakalos made X and gamma-ray images of the object. What they saw was an incredibly complex mechanism containing at least 30 gears, cogs, and wheels. The device became known as the Antikythera Mechanism (or device).

When it was discovered over 119 years ago, technology wasn’t advanced enough to peer inside because it was heavily corroded. However, in 1971, X and gamma-ray images were made by Price and Karakalos. In 2006 a detailed history of the mechanism’s discovery, history and function was published in the journal, Nature. According to the author, Jo Marchant, a major breakthrough in understanding the device came when Andrew Wright, curator of the Museum of Science in London, received parts of a sixth century Byzantine sundial containing gears and cogs, brought to him by a Lebanese man.[1] For years Wright had been studying Price’s account of the device in which he found several anomalies. With the additional information he gleaned from the Byzantine sundial, Wright was able to clearly see the errors of Price’s account of the device.

According to Marchant, “Wright ended up working with Allan Bromley, a computer scientist at Sydney University in Australia who had become interested in the Antikythera Mechanism around the same time. Bromiley wanted to study the machine with X-ray tomography, which assembles a sheaf of cross-sections of its subject.”[2]

With a more intricate picture and deeper understanding of the device’s components, Wright was able to reconstruct a fully functioning replica of the device. From the work of Wright, Bromiley and many others, Antikythera researchers analyzed the number of wheel cogs, the wheel ratios as well as other components and determined that the device was able to produce a motion that closely mimics the varying motion of the Moon around the Earth, as described by the 2nd Century B.C., Greek astronomer, and mathematician Hipparchus of Rhodes (see, Scientific American, Jan. 1, 2022).

Hipparchus in his observatory in Alexandria. In the centre is an armillary sphere. Hipparchus (190-120 BC), was a Greek astronomer, geographer, and mathematician of the Hellenistic period. A methodical observer, Hipparchus compiled the first known star catalogue, listing some 850 stars, as well as their celestial coordinates and magnitude. His work profoundly influenced that of Ptolemy. He is considered the founder of trigonometry. Hipparchus is considered the greatest ancient astronomical observer. He was the first whose quantitative and accurate models for the motion of the Sun and Moon survive. He developed trigonometry and constructed trigonometric tables, and he solved several problems of spherical trigonometry. With his solar and lunar theories and his trigonometry, he may have been the first to develop a reliable method to predict solar eclipses. .

Hipparchus was the first scholar to describe the motion of the Moon around the Earth mathematically, so whoever designed the Antikythera Mechanism would have been intimately familiar with his mathematical lunar theories. Some have even proposed that the device could have been made under the direct supervision of Hipparchus himself. Historical references from the Roman writer Cicero who studied in Rhodes also seem to imply this.

Credit: Tony Freeth, Scientific American, Jan. 1, 2022

The discovery of the Antikythera Device raises some interesting questions. How did ancient people create such a complex mechanism so long ago? The device reveals a level of technical complexity and skill that wasn’t seen until the invention of the clock in 13th Century Medieval Europe. On another level it also has elements that closely resemble the first mechanical computers that were not invented until the 19th Century by the English mathematician, Charles Babbage.

The discovery and understanding of the device also parallels discoveries in modern molecular biology and our understanding of some irreducibly complex features found in biology. Archaeologists have found artifacts much less complex than the Antikythera Mechanism and have correctly inferred that they were artifacts designed by human intelligence. Likewise, it is a valid inference to see designed artifacts in nature, which imply a designer.


An archaeological artifact is anything that has been made or modified by humans. Artifacts can be anything from fragments of flint or chert as the detritus from making projectile points, or arrowheads — to something as complex as the Great Pyramid of Giza, to the remains of the incredibly beautiful marble structure of the Parthenon in Athens. Archaeological artifacts may also be thought of in a much broader fashion, to include patterns archaeologists discover on the landscape of the earth itself.

Antikythera Devices” in Nature

Perhaps some of the most remarkable artifacts of design are found in nature and in particular biology. In his book, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology (1999), philosopher and mathematician, William A. Dembski cites Bruce Alberts, President of the National Academy of Sciences in the Feb 2008 issue of Cell. Alberts states:

The entire cell can be viewed as a factory that contains an elaborate network of interlocking assembly lines, each of which is composed of large protein machines… Why do we call the large protein assemblies that underlie cell function machines? Precisely because, like machines invented by humans to deal efficiently with the macroscopic world, these protein assemblies contain highly coordinated moving parts.[3]

Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology (1999)

Admittedly, archaeology and biology are quite different sciences with different aims, however they both share in the fundamental search for causes. As philosopher Jay Wesley Richards correctly points out:

“…we infer design every day, both in ordinary life and in scientific disciplines such as archaeology, forensics, fraud detection, cryptography, and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). What Behe called irreducible complexity, Dembski calls specified complexity. If something has specified complexity, it is highly improbable, has high information content, and conforms to an independent pattern. Again, the only known causes for such things are intelligent agents, so there is no special pleading in inferring design in natural sciences like biology. Dembski argues that when we conclude that something has the property of specified complexity, we are justified in inferring that it is designed by an intelligent agent.[4]

Two Kinds of Causes: Natural & Intelligent

At the end of the day, whether Indy is out searching for a lost Mayan city in the Amazon jungle or looted tombs in the Nile Delta, or a modern archaeologist is using satellite imaging, or a biochemist is searching for the source of the epi-genome, the search ultimate causality is one and the same for all. Whether it is an astronomer looking for extraterrestrial intelligence in space (SETI), forensics, archaeology or biology, only two kinds of causes ultimately matter – intelligent causation or natural causation.

One doesn’t have to have a PhD in microbiology, archaeology or particle physics to understand the difference. Even a child knows the difference between something that is intelligently caused, and something that is caused naturally.

In a sense, the Dial of Destiny (the Antikythera Mechanism) transports us back in time (like Indy) to ancient Greece, to men like Hipparchus of Rhodes, who were fascinated with the precision, the order, and design of the stars and planets of the universe – perhaps the greatest and most mysterious artifact known to man.

Grand Orrery (planetarium), George Adams Sr., English, ca. 1750 – Whipple Museum, Cambridge, UK

[1] Jo Marchant, “In Search of Lost Time,” in Nature (Vol. 444) 30 November 2006, pg. 536.

[2] Ibid.

[3] William A. Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology (Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, 2009), 146-7.

[4] Jay Wesley Richards, “Proud Obstacles and a Reasonable Hope: The Apologetic Value of Intelligent Design,” in Dembski & Kushiner, Eds., Signs of Intelligence: Understanding Intelligent Design (Brazos Press: Grand Rapids, MI, 2001), pp. 55-6.