Nebra Sky Disc - History
Wikimedia Commons The Nebra Sky Disk has been dated to approximately 1,600 B.C.
The Nebra Sky Disk is thought to be the oldest depiction of the night sky ever made by human hands. It dates back 3,600 years to Late Bronze Age Europe, and it can still be used to measure the angle of the sun at the solstices.
Ancient Europeans appear to have intentionally buried it thousands of years ago. By that point, they had used it for approximately 200 years and had even made alterations to hide certain stars and add symbols to help gauge leap months.
But, because treasure hunters illegally plundered it from a German hillside in 1999, the Nebra Sky Disk was not analyzed by professionals for several years after it left the ground, making it one of Europe’s most intense archaeological mysteries.
And some researchers argue that this artifact isn’t nearly as old as it’s thought to be.
The Nebra Sky Disc: Early Calendar, Ancient Astronomical Art or Simply a Fake?
At some point in ancient history, a starry scene was immortalized on a disc of bronze. That artifact is an enigma today. Recovered by treasure hunters in 1999, it's been named the "Nebra Sky Disc" after the town of Nebra, Germany, near the site where the disc was found.
Cosmic artwork is nothing new some experts say this object might be the first surviving attempt to portray astronomical objects (like stars) in a realistic way. But we're missing some important context. While the Nebra Sky Disc is undoubtedly valuable, its age is open to debate.
A Scene of Celestial Wonder
The artifact measures about 12 inches (30 centimeters) wide and weighs 4.6 pounds (2 kilograms). A series of 39 to 40 tiny holes were made along the perimeter. Color-wise, the disc has a bluish-green backdrop punctuated by golden symbols.
Extra attention has been paid to seven tightly-packed dots. They most likely depict Pleaides, a star cluster visible from both hemispheres.
There's also a large golden circle thought to represent the sun or moon. It faces a crescent-shaped object that might be an artist's take on some eclipse or lunar phase. Finally, we've got 25 other dots, a curved line toward the bottom — and two long arcs hugging the sides.
The latter evoke horizons, a possible reference to the solstices. Who knows? Perhaps the disc helped farmers time their harvests in accordance with the changing seasons. It could've had religious value as well. Though the arcs, stars and other ornaments were made of gold, the disc itself is corroded bronze (hence its blue-green color).
Ancient Artifact, Modern Crime
Following its discovery in 1999, the Nebra Sky Disc spent three years on the black market until authorities seized the relic in a 2002 sting operation.
Shortly thereafter, in 2005, Regensburg University archaeologist Peter Schauer claimed the disc was a modern forgery. His arguments have been dismissed the corrosion and other lines of evidence are a testimony to this object's advanced age.
Still, the nature of its recovery raises questions. The two men who found the sky disc claimed they unearthed it at a site near Nebra, Germany — about 111 miles (180 kilometers) southwest of Berlin. Since the disc was considered property of the state, they had no legal right to dig it up or attempt to sell it. But these guys did both. And in 2005, they were found guilty of illegal excavation.
Before the sting, the looters tried to sell the disc as part of a collection that also included two axes, two swords and other artifacts allegedly taken from the same location.
Is It Bronze Age or Iron Age?
Right now, the disc is on display at the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle, Germany. According to the locally based State Office for the Preservation of Monuments and Archaeology's official website, it "cannot be directly dated" using radiometric dating techniques.
Yet all is not lost. Radiocarbon dating shows that the bark on one of those associated sword hilts is about 3,600 years old. If the sky disc was made at the same time (more or less), then it's definitely a Bronze Age treasure.
However, a controversial paper, released in September 2020, proposes that the disc's place of origin may not have been reported accurately. The authors also suspect it could be 1,000 years younger than previously thought, making it an Iron Age relic.
Harald Meller, director of the Halle State Museum, isn't sold. Neither is Deputy State Archaeologist Alfred Reichenberger, who wrote a press release questioning the 2020 paper. "The colleagues not only ignore the abundance of published research results in recent years, their various arguments are also easily refuted," declared Reichenberger's statement. According to this January, 2021 story in The New York Times, the controversy concerning the age of the disc continues to rage unabated.
Looters, a court case and rejected fakery charges. After everything it's been through — just in the past 21 years or so — one wonders what the future has in store for the mysterious Nebra Sky Disc.
Capitalizing on his artistic background, the great astronomer Galileo Galilei published detailed sketches of sunspots and the moon's pockmarked face.
A Bitter Archaeological Feud Over an Ancient Vision of the Cosmos
The disk is small — just 12 inches in diameter — but it has loomed large in the minds of people across millenniums. Made of bronze, the artifact was inlaid in gold with an ancient vision of the cosmos by its crafters. Over generations, it was updated with new astronomical insights, until it was buried beneath land that would become the Federal Republic of Germany thousands of years later.
This is the Nebra sky disk, and nothing else like it has been found in European archaeology. Many archaeologists have declared it the oldest known representation of the heavens, and to Germans it is a beloved emblem of heritage that connects them with ancient sky watchers.
“The sky disk is a window to look into the minds of these people,” said Ernst Pernicka, a senior professor at Tübingen University and a director of the Curt-Engelhorn Center for Archaeometry in Mannheim.
Rupert Gebhard, the director of the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection in Munich, said, “It’s a very emotional object.”
But while Dr. Gebhard and Dr. Pernicka both acknowledge the disk’s past and present cultural resonance, they do not agree about much more. The two men and others are polarized by a bitter archaeological feud over the object’s true age. Many side with Dr. Pernicka in saying that the object is roughly 3,600 years old and comes from the Bronze Age. But Dr. Gebhard and some colleagues hold firm to their arguments that it must be about 1,000 years younger, saying it shares more with totems of the Iron Age.
The dispute is an “unhappy situation,” said Harald Meller, a professor at the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg and director of the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle, the German institution that is the sky disk’s home. He stands by his conclusion that the disk dates to the Bronze Age.
A paper published late last year by Dr. Pernicka and Dr. Meller offered a strong rebuttal to the case for the Iron Age made by Dr. Gebhard and Rüdiger Krause, a professor of prehistory and early European history at Goethe University Frankfurt. While some believe this should settle the argument, other archaeologists think the debate will, and should, continue.
“This controversial discussion of questions that have not yet been finally clarified will trigger new investigations, especially in Halle, and motivate research to make progress,” said Wolfgang David, the executive director of the Archaeological Museum Frankfurt, who has not been involved in either side’s studies.
The Nebra sky disk is plundered treasure. This is where the problems all begin.
Two men claimed they found the disk, along with other ancient artifacts, during the summer of 1999 on a hillside called the Mittelberg near the town of Nebra, about an hour’s drive southwest of Halle. After denting and scratching the artifact as they dug it up, they sold it and the rest of the hoard to a trader in black market antiquities.
Authorities recovered the disk in a 2002 sting operation, which Dr. Meller participated in, and prosecuted the original looters, who ultimately revealed the site where they had discovered the disk in exchange for a plea bargain.
Dr. Meller also led the excavation of the Nebra site and worked with other archaeologists to establish its Bronze Age provenance. In earlier years, some scientists said the object was a forgery. But consensus eventually emerged that the disk was made by ancient people, and Dr. Meller has promoted the interpretation of the object as the oldest known human expression of clear astronomical phenomena, such as the Pleiades star cluster.
“There’s plenty of evidence for archaeoastronomical orientations and an interest in cosmology and the night sky, the day sky, the planets and the stars during the Bronze Age,” said Alison Sheridan, an archaeologist who has worked with National Museums Scotland and was formerly president of the Prehistoric Society, an international group that promotes prehistoric research. However, the Nebra sky disk is “the oldest example of when somebody made a representation of that on material culture,” she said.
The sky disk may reach new heights later this year when Matthias Maurer, a German astronaut, heads to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX capsule. Dr. Maurer incorporated the disk’s iconography into the design of the patch he will wear during the mission.
Dr. Gebhard and Dr. Krause challenged that Bronze Age timeline in a study published last year in the journal Archäologische Informationen, saying that the object originated in the Iron Age, about 1,000 years later.
“There is a very unclear situation about the history of finding the disk,” Dr. Krause said. “This is the big problem we have to solve somehow.”
The two archaeologists argue that the disk must have been found at another location and reburied with unaffiliated artifacts at the Mittelberg site to make it appear to be from the Bronze Age, and therefore more valuable. They point in part to an account that one of the looters gave in a book, and claim that since they published their study in September other traders in the antiquities black market contacted them to affirm rumors that the disk was from another spot.
“This site at the Mittelberg is obsolete,” Dr. Gebhard said. “We think it’s necessary to look around to a new site.”
They believe that because of the enormous cultural significance of the disk for Saxony-Anhalt, the German state where Halle and Nebra are, criticism of its popular origin story has been stifled.
Dr. Pernicka, Dr. Meller and other colleagues responded with a rebuttal published in November in the journal Archaeologia Austriaca that reasserts the Bronze Age roots of the artifact.
To counter rumors that the disk came from another site, they first point out that both looters testified in court that they had unearthed the hoard, complete with the disk, at the Mittelberg site. That testimony “was corroborated by a lot of scientific or forensic evidence,” said Flemming Kaul, a senior researcher at the National Museum of Denmark, who was not involved with either study.
Dr. Meller and his colleagues think the disk fulfilled sophisticated religious and calendric purposes for the people who made it. In their new study, they speculate that the Mittelberg site may have been selected as the resting place for the disk — along with two swords, two axes, a chisel and arm spirals in the hoard — because it served as an elevated perch for astronomical observations.
“It was not thrown away,” Dr. Pernicka said of the contents buried at the site. It was a deliberate arrangement, he said, which might have been a ceremonial burial without a body or an offering to the gods.
“We see this actually quite a lot in the Bronze Age, these so-called depositions, or ‘hoards of bronzes,’” said Maikel Kuijpers, an assistant professor in European prehistory at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who was not involved in either study.
The scientific basis for the claim of Bronze Age origin rests on a small piece of birch bark, ensconced in the handle of one of the swords, which was carbon-dated to about 1,600 B.C. Over all, the hoard appears typical of the Bronze Age, which some experts think strengthens the case that the disk also hails from that era.
“Unless it can be proved that the looters intentionally assembled a perfectly calibrated set of objects to set off an intellectual feud among specialists, the most parsimonious interpretation is that the pieces were found together,” said Bettina Arnold, an archaeologist and professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who was not involved with either study.
The teams also disagree on evidence provided by soil samples, the provenance of the disk’s metals and the meaning of the bewitching celestial scenes that decorate its face.
Dr. Pernicka’s analysis of the Mittelberg site revealed concentrations of gold and copper in the soil, suggesting that metals from the disk had leached out over thousands of years. Dr. Gebhard and Dr. Krause are not convinced that those particles are linked to the disk, and they recommend further comparative soil analysis.
The debate over whether the disk’s iconography evokes the Bronze or Iron Age is more nebulous. Take the curious semicircle at the bottom of its face: Many archaeologists believe this feature, which was added some time after the disk was first created, represents a solar barge, a mythological vessel associated with an ancient Egyptian religion. The presence of this barge, known also as a barque, could hint at the northward spread of Mediterranean motifs across Europe in the Bronze Age.
“The Nebra sky disk should be considered as a religious object of utmost importance for our understanding of Bronze Age religion,” Dr. Kaul said. “When considering this figure as a solar barque in particular, it stands among the earliest renderings of the sun ship in the iconography of Europe.”
The solar barge interpretation is challenged by Dr. Gebhard and Dr. Krause, who think the curved shape of the figure does not match contemporaneous depictions of such sky boats found in dig sites from Egypt up through Scandinavia.
“We have no pictures, indeed, with barges which are totally round,” Dr. Gebhard said.
If their hypothesis about the solar barge is accurate, it raises doubts about the circular icon on the disk, commonly thought to be the sun. Dr. Gebhard and Dr. Krause counter that it is a full moon, situated to the left of the crescent phase. This interpretation of the disk, along with the presence of so many stars, corresponds to how European cultures of the Iron Age viewed the night sky, they say.
“In the Bronze Age, the disk is unique in form and decoration,” Dr. David said. “The representations are too naturalistic for the early and middle Bronze Age, in which lunar and solar motifs are represented in a very abstract way.”
However, some archaeologists have come to the opposite conclusion. Dr. Arnold said the disk was “much more consistent with Bronze Age iconographic and ideological concepts than those of the Iron Age in Central Europe,” and Dr. Kaul said he had “no problems with the iconography of the Nebra sky disk in European middle Bronze Age context.”
Dr. Kuijpers sees problems with both sides’ views on the iconography because the disk “doesn’t fit either period,” he said. In his view, the fixation on an artifact that is without parallel is the biggest problem with this dispute.
“It’s really unfortunate if we put all our focus on one exceptional status object,” Dr. Kuijpers said. “I think that’s not helping our discipline and what we can actually do. It’s great and fantastic to study and look at, but also, in a way, irrelevant to the bigger picture of normal early Bronze Age society.”
While parts of the iconography debate will remain subjective, Dr. Sheridan said she thought Dr. Pernicka and Dr. Meller’s article should settle the argument that the artifact was “a genuine early Bronze Age find.”
But the Nebra sky disk is an archaeological wild card, made as much from secrets as it is from gold, bronze and copper. The visual flair of its cosmic tableau continues to captivate public imagination, even as its elusive significance and the crimes that led to its excavation imbue the relic with tantalizing mystery.
“While on balance the evidence (such as it is) is tilted in favor of a Bronze Age date,” Dr. Arnold wrote in an email, “the Nebra Disk is a fascinating but tragic find whose true importance will likely remain obscure no matter how many tests it is subjected to.”
Nebra Sky Disc - History
The Nebra Sky Disc: (Astronomical Artefact )
This artefact was for a long time considered a fake. It is now accepted as a genuine artefact describing the night sky. It is a bronze disc about 32 centimetres in diameter with a diagram of the heavens embossed onto it in gold. It shows representations of the sun, moon, Pleiades and three other crescents, two presumed to be horizon lines and the other a possible 'Solar Barge' at the bottom.
The disc was found on top of a mountain (The Mittelberg) in Germany, along with a horde of other 'Bronze-age' relics, from which it is dated at c. 1,600 BC. The disc was made by a race of people that lived in Europe before the arrival of the Celts, and is said to be one of the oldest chart of the heavens in the world.
|Nebra Sky Disc - Form and Function:|
Physical Description: ( 32cm in diameter, bronze, with gold decorations of the Sun, Moon and Pleiades).
On the left and right sides are two long arcs. These span about 80 degrees each. The difference between sunrise on the summer solstice and on the winter solstice is 82.7 degrees at this latitude, as is the difference between the sunsets on the two solstices. The two arcs are said to represent the portions of the horizon where the sun rises during the year. (The gold coating on the left arc, representing sunset, has fallen off and is lost).
Between the two arcs are a full circle and a crescent. The crescent obviously represents a crescent moon, while the large circle may be the sun or a full moon. (The gold on the sun/full moon circle is damaged). Considering recent conclusions of its original function (see below) it is likely that this is a sun symbol. In the background are 23 stars dotted in an apparently random pattern, and one group of seven stars which represent the Pleiades star cluster (the Seven Sisters or M45). X-Rays indicate that under the gold of the right arc are two more stars, so it is likely that the two arcs were added some time after the other features.
In addition, the number of stars on the disc is 32, along with the Moon, that makes 33 objects in total. Intriguingly, 33 Lunar years are equivalent to 32 Solar years.
Examination of the disc reveals that the arch at the bottom (the 'Sun Ship') was added 'ages after the disc was made' (2)
The Function of the Nebra Sky Disc:
It has been variously proposed that the disc was intended as an astronomical tool, and that through comparison of the skies and a visual display of the extremes of the rising and setting positions of the sun along the horizon (As presented by the arcs on each side), that with the disc in a horizontal plane, it could be used to determine the time of year. In addition, it is proposed that it was used to calculate the difference between the solar and lunar cycles in the form of adding a 13th lunar month, something which is required every two or three years) It is perhaps relevant that the cache site was found on the top of a hill, a good place for observing the suns movements. The site was surrounded by an artificial low bank, which could be used for measuring the position of the sun on the horizon. (1)
Article: 2002. (www.dw-world.de)
A group of German scholars who studied this archaeological gem has discovered evidence which suggests that the disc was used as a complex astronomical clock for the harmonization of solar and lunar calendars.
"The sensation lies in the fact that the Bronze Age people managed to harmonize the solar and lunar years. We never thought they would have managed that. The functioning of this clock was probably known to a very small group of people,"
The Bronze Age astronomers would hold the Nebra clock against the sky and observe the position of the celestial objects. The intercalary month was inserted when what they saw in the sky corresponded to the map on the disc they were holding in their hands. This happened every two to three years.
According to astronomer Wolfhard Schlosser of the Rurh University at Bochum, the Bronze Age sky gazers already knew what the Babylonians would describe only a thousand years later.
"Whether this was a local discovery, or whether the knowledge came from afar, is still not clear," Schlosser said.
Ever since the disc was discovered, archaeologists and astronomers have been puzzled by the shape of the moon as it appears on the disc. According to the ancient Babylonian rule, a thirteenth month should only be added to the lunar calendar only when one sees the constellation of the moon and the Pleiades exactly as they appear on the Nebra sky disc.
How Old Is This Ancient Vision of the Stars?
It’s a tale of bronze, iron, looting and archaeological conflict.
The Nebra sky disk has been hailed as the oldest known representation of the cosmos. Uncovered by looters in 1999 and then recovered in a sting by archaeologists and law enforcement a few years later, the ancient bronze artifact, inlaid with gold decorations of the night sky, has provoked heated debates.
Now, a pair of German archaeologists are calling into question the age and origin of the disk, adding another chapter to the complex saga of the enchanting object.
The disk is currently judged to be about 3,600 years old, dating it to the Bronze Age. The looters who initially uncovered it said it was buried on a hilltop near the town of Nebra in Germany, next to weapons from the same era.
Rupert Gebhard, director of the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection in Munich, and Rüdiger Krause, a professor of early European history at Goethe University Frankfurt, now propose that the disk is a product of the Iron Age, which would make it about 1,000 years younger.
The researchers also argue that the disk was most likely moved by looters to the Nebra site from another location, meaning it may not be associated with the other artifacts, or Nebra itself, according to a study published this month in the journal Archäologische Informationen.
“We regard the disk as a single find, as a single artifact, because nothing fits to it in the surrounding area,” Dr. Krause said.
The State Museum of Prehistory in Halle, Germany, which exhibits the Nebra sky disk, issued a statement calling the team’s conclusions “demonstrably incorrect” and “easily refuted.”
“The biggest mistake in science is if you don’t refer to the whole data,” said Harald Meller, the museum’s director. “What these colleagues do is refer only to very limited data that seems to fit their system.”
Dr. Gebhard and Dr. Krause raised doubts about several earlier assumptions concerning the disk.
The artifact is thought to be affiliated with the Bronze Age items in part because soil on the objects indicated a common period, but the study points to conflicting court documents about those assessments. Some of the weapons associated with the disk may not date to the Bronze Age, or come from the same deposit, according to Dr. Gebhard and Dr. Krause.
The researchers suspect that the original looters may have moved the artifacts to the Nebra location to keep their site a secret from professional archaeologists.
“They never tell you the place where they excavated because it is like a treasure box for them,” Dr. Gebhard said. “They just go back to the same place to get, and sell, new material.”
Disputes about the authenticity of the Nebra sky disk are not uncommon. Its spectacular design has awed both experts and the public, but it has also provoked concerns that it could be a forgery.
“The problem here is that it’s such a one-off,” said Alison Sheridan, former president of the Prehistoric Society, who is not involved with either team. “That’s why people have said, Maybe it’s a fake.”
Emilia Pásztor, an archaeologist at the Türr István museum in Hungary who has studied the disk, noted that its black market background amplifies these uncertainties.
“The Nebra disk, due to the circumstances of the discovery,” she said, “belongs to those archaeological finds that can be debated forever until some very accurate absolute dating method can be found for metals.”
Still, there is now a strong consensus that the Nebra sky disk is a bona fide ancient artifact.
“It’s original. It’s not a fake,” Dr. Krause said of the disk. “What you can make out of it is a very interesting scientific discussion that shows the various different sides, or objectives, of how to judge this object, either in the Bronze or in the Iron Age.”
To that end, Dr. Meller’s team intends to publish a rebuttal of the new study. Other archaeologists think they will have plenty to work with.
“What’s been presented here certainly does not blow out of the water the argument that it’s Bronze Age,” Dr. Sheridan of the new study.
Nebra lies between Querfurt and Naumburg on the Unstrut river in the west of Burgenlandkreis district.
Neighboring communities Edit
Neighboring towns are Querfurt, Barnstädt and Steigra (all three in Saalekreis) to the north, Karsdorf to the east, Bad Bibra to the south and Kaiserpfalz to the west.
In 1962, four Magdalenian figurines were found near Nebra from the late Upper Paleolithic, which belong to the oldest known artwork in Saxony-Anhalt. The figures are 12,000 to 14,000 years old.
The town is perhaps most famous due to the Nebra sky disk, which was found in Wangen near Nebra in 1999. It only became public in 2002 when the finders tried to sell it and were eventually arrested following a sting operation in Basel, Switzerland. The sky disc is thought to have been created between 2100 and 1700 BCE and to have been buried in approximately 1600 BCE.
The oldest historical documents mentioning Nebra date back to 876. Town privileges were acquired in the 12th century.
Nebra Castle was built in 1540 by the von Nißmitz brothers.
For many centuries, red sandstone was mined in the region which was used for castles and farmhouses.
Between 1952 and 1994, Nebra was the seat of the Nebra municipality in Halle district.
The name of the town was changed on 1 January 1998, from Nebra to Nebra (Unstrut).
On 1 July 2009 the previously separate village of Wangen was merged with Nebra,  and on 1 September 2010 the village Reinsdorf was annexed. 
Nebra today features the Courths-Mahler archives and Arche Nebra, a museum on the history of the Nebra sky disk. The sky disc itself is exhibited at the Halle State Museum of Prehistory.
Nebra Sky Disc - History
Updated: Mon, 21 Sep 2020 08:20:53 GMT
The Nebra sky disc, one of Germany's most heralded prehistoric artifacts, is often considered the world's oldest depiction of the cosmos. For a relatively small object -- the gold-speckled disc is only 12 inches wide -- it has produced a large amount of controversy.
In fact, the Nebra sky disc's sordid history reads like a Dan Brown novel, involving looters, court hearings, conflict between archaeologists and even allegations of revenge.
The sky disc was reportedly unearthed in 1999 near the town of Nebra, Germany, by looters who sold it to black-market dealers. It was recovered by law enforcement several years later, and the looters were prosecuted in court. Today, it's exhibited in the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle.
But there were inconsistencies in the looters' stories about how they acquired the artifact. And experts continue to debate the exact origins and history of the disc, which is widely considered to be from the Bronze Age, about 3,600 years ago.
Now, the saga continues as a new analysis has suggested the Nebra sky disc could be about 1,000 years younger than previously thought.
Based on analysis of the soil attached to the disc and the iconography of its decorations, two scientists concluded that the artifact is more likely to be from the Iron Age, dating between about 2,800 and 2,050 years ago. The study published this month in the German journal Archaeological Information.
The authors of the study, Rupert Gebhard, director of the Bavarian Archaeological State Collection in Munich, and Rüdiger Krause, professor of prehistory and early European history at Goethe University Frankfurt, argued the exact location of the disc's discovery might not be the Mittelberg hill near Nebra, Germany -- the spot where one looter directed authorities.
"One principle of the looters is to never tell the truth about the site you have excavated," Gebhard said. "What's interesting is that nobody has discovered anything on the Mittelberg before this discovery, and nobody has discovered anything on the Mittelberg after. From this point of view, it's highly unusual that the site is the real site."
The date of the disc was determined in part by the objects found alongside it -- Bronze Age swords, axes and a prehistoric chisel. But based on soil attachments found on all the objects, the authors wrote, it's also not certain they were originally found together.
The new study casts doubt on the artifact's status as the oldest depiction of the heavens and could tarnish its reputation as what UNESCO has called "one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century."
Museum refutes latest study
The German state of Saxony-Anhalt, which hosts the disc in its state museum, is strongly refuting Gebhard and Krause's research.
"The colleagues not only ignore the abundance of published research results in recent years, their various arguments also are easily refuted," Deputy State Archaeologist Alfred Reichenberger said in a statement, adding that some of the claims in the new research article are inconsistent and "not comprehensible."
Ernst Pernicka, a professor of natural archaeology at the University of Tübingen, said that he and the director of the State Museum, Harald Meller, plan to publish a rebuttal paper later this year.
Pernicka told CNN he believed the new analysis could even be "revenge" because Gebhard and Krause once published a book on Mycenaean gold artifacts found in Bavaria, but Pernicka's analysis concluded they were fakes.
Pernicka's earlier research on the disc found that the composition of the copper of the sky disc and the copper of the objects found alongside it are all very similar. His research also determined the soil below the Mittelberg spot where the disc was reportedly found has enrichments of copper and gold that prove those metals had been buried there for a long time -- strong arguments against the latest analysis, he said.
The State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology argued that the soil attachments on the sky disc and the objects found nearby it "very probably" correspond with the presumed location where the looters said the objects were found, citing yet another expert who conducted the investigations of the soil attachments for the Regional Court of Halle.
Both sides said the other scientists are ignoring crucial expert opinions and pieces of evidence.
Emilia Pásztor, an archaeologist at Hungary's Türr István Museum who has studied the disc but is unaffiliated with the latest analysis and the state museum, told CNN she believed that both sides' analyses regarding the soil samples are not clear enough. However, she said the scientific community is excited about the debate and the possibility of new investigations.
"The Nebra disk -- due to the circumstances of the discovery -- belongs to those archaeological finds that can be debated forever until some very accurate absolute dating method can be found for metals by physicists or other nature-scientists," Pásztor said in an email.
Pásztor also said the latest analysis of the iconography found on the disc is "not complete and convincing" enough to definitively place it in the Iron Age, but that the very simple style of the imagery also differs from usual depictions from the Bronze Age. The crescent shape was extremely rare during that time period, she also noted, and only one other late Bronze Age artifact (a bowl from Zurich) has one.
"All these arguments are not solid evidences," Pásztor noted, adding, "If an archaeological find is taken from a treasure hunter to a museum, one cannot be sure of anything."
There have even been discussions in the past about whether the artifact is a forgery.
But the museum put the artifact through rigorous testing to ensure it's not a fake, and Pernicka told CNN that tests on the metal have definitively confirmed it's at least 100 years old -- so not a modern forgery. However, existing technology isn't good enough prove whether it's from the Bronze or Iron age. Gebhard and Krause also said they think it's "an original object of unknown date," adding that "the Iron Age is the most probable date -- it even could be younger."
Gebhard said the important things is for archaeologists to be clear about what they do and do not know for certain.
"Of course we know there is a political aspect, as well as a scientific aspect," said Gebhard, adding that the disc generates tourism for Saxony-Anhalt and the state has invested large sums of money into its museum exhibit. "Archaeology itself is not as precise as physics or chemistry. There are always errors and misinterpretations and the problem is you have to be honest to say, 'Well, I know this but I don't know this.'"
It's important for the scientists studying the disc to be upfront with local authorities and museum visitors that there could be other interpretations and evidence, Gebhard said.
"We're trying to set up a scientific discussion, finally, to get into the topic again together with other colleagues and with the Halle colleagues," Krause added. "It's a very interesting artifact, but it needs more open discussion."
The Nebra sky disk
This disk, made of bronze and gold, with an age of around 3,600 years, belongs to the oldest find representing astronomical phenomena and thereby depicting planets and stars in the sky. It is thus of great value, because it is evidenced that people of the Bronze Age (2200-800 BC) did not only possess manual skills to create such a refined metal disk, but above all, had the knowledge about astronomical processes. They observed the celestial events with the naked eye and portrayed this in an artistic form.
The Nebra sky disk (Nebra is a small town in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany) has a colourful history. Due to a variety of material analyses, in particular of the associated finds that were discovered together with the disk, it was possible to determine the approximate time of burial to be 1600 BC, and hence the age could be defined. This precious piece lay in the ground in Nebra over millennia until in 1999 it was found by tomb raiders. After sales from fence to fence and many efforts, it found its way back and was turned into government property. Subsequently, if became the most substantial research object and remains to be the most valuable item of the Bronze Age, until today. The insurance value is over 100 Mio. Euros – a striking figure for two kilos of old metal.
The disk has a diameter of 32 centimetres. One can see on its bronze body (an alloy of copper and zinc), which is now covered with a green layer of malachite, different applications of gold that depict the night sky. On the left side of the centre, there is a big circle that used to be interpreted as the Sun. Today, it is also potentially seen as the Full Moon – which makes sense, considering the simultaneously depicted stars. Furthermore, you can see the waxing moon crescent and various stars, of which the central formation is being interpreted as the Pleiades, see also the following picture:
Sideways, on the edge of the disk, arches were attached (only the one on the right remained preserved), which mark the horizon and hence, the sun rise and sun set. The smaller arch on the lower edge represents a solar barge that we know of the Egyptian mythology. This boat was supposed to carry the sun at daylight across the sky, in order return driving through the underworld at night.
It is interesting that the moon crescent has clearly a bigger diameter in comparison to the full moon or sun disk. Because the moon crescent lies closer to the horizon, this could be an indication of the so called moon illusion, a phenomenon where the Moon appears to be larger when closer to the horizon.
The Nebra sky disk is an impressive example for the power of the human mind and its need to research and understand the world and the universe. Much of this power remained alive in our time and reminds us not to stagnate. We are able to do great things.
The Nebra Sky Disk
In September of 2002, German archaeologists revealed a Bronze Age find with the potential to change modern-day thought about how the ancients viewed their relationship to the stars, moon, and sun, and how they may have used solar observatories to predict the cycle of life.
Based on its association with other Bronze Age artifacts found near Nebra, a site located about 110 miles southwest of Berlin in eastern Germany, archaeologists believe that the bronze Sangerhausen or Nebra Star Disk may be 3,600 years old and has been associated with the Bronze Age Unetice culture.
Despite having been discovered by metal detectorists illegally working the site, it was not until 2002 that authorities seized the artifact, along with two swords, two axes, a chisel, and a set of arm-rings, and arrested the people who had plundered the site. Only then were archaeologists able to pinpoint exactly where the looters had unearthed the plate-like disk and begin excavating the site.
Thus far, archaeologists have uncovered a circular earthen embankment some 200 yards in diameter, which encloses the entire site and includes a series of ramparts and ditches that were used continually from 1,600 to 700 BC.
Valued at about $10 million, the disk’s images were embossed with gold leaf. They display the sun (or a full moon), a crescent moon, the horizon, and 32 stars, several of which may represent the Pleiades, the star cluster used by Bronze Age peoples to predict the timing of autumn and the fall harvest.
If determined to be authentic, the Star Disk could be the earliest astronomical map in existence, and the forested site where it was found—Mittelberg hill—might be the home to the oldest surviving solar observatory.
The Purpose of the Disk
While scholars have wrestled with the possibility that such megalithic sites functioned as some sort of celestial observatory, they have been unable to offer concrete physical proof to bolster their theories. So the association of the Star Disk with the henge-like structure at Nebra may be just the breakthrough they have been seeking. The images on the Star Disk may even correlate with the view of the night sky as seen from Mittelberg hill during the Bronze Age.
Besides identifying several astronomical bodies on the bronze disk, scholars have offered a variety of interpretations about the two curved shapes depicted opposite each other on the object. The two gold bands may represent an angle of 82.5°.
This represents the circle of the daily period passing from the summer solstice on June 21 to the winter solstice on December 21 in central Germany. A third more curved gold band lies between the two horizon arcs, and may represent either the Milky Way or a ship sailing between the horizons across the nocturnal celestial ocean.
Archaeologist Harald Meller, director of State Museum for Prehistory in Halle, Germany, believes that both the circular building and the Star Disk were used by the ancients to track the sun’s movement from winter to summer solstices, providing information on when to sow and harvest their crops.
The Star Disk is currently being studied in Halle, Germany. Future plans for the site near Nebra include reconstructing the solar observatory and turning the hilltop into a tourist attraction so that visitors will be able to experience how the structure may have functioned during prehistoric times.
Perhaps by then, sufficient evidence will exist to determine whether the bronze plate is authentic and confirm both its original purpose and that the henge site was used by the ancients as a solar observatory. Its broader implications may change the way archaeoastronomers understand the prehistoric world, how megalithic monuments were used, and whether or not the ancients had an intellectual sophistication that modern humans have yet to define.