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Nebra Sky Disk – Oldest Map of the Night Sky

Nebra Sky Disk

Nebra Sky Disk

The Nebra Sky Disk is a bronze disk with a blue-green patina which is inlaid with gold symbols. The gold symbols are the Sun or full moon, a lunar crescent, and stars. The disk is dated to 1600 BC and was created by a Central European Bronze Age culture.

The Nebra sky disk features the oldest depiction of the cosmos from the currently known ancient artifacts. The UNESCO Memory of the World Register and termed it as:

“one of the most important archaeological finds of the twentieth century.”

The disk is 30 centimeters (11 3⁄4 in) diameter and 2.2 kilograms (4.9 lb) in weight. The stars are interpreted to including a cluster of seven interpreted as the Pleiades.

Two golden arcs along the sides interpreted to mark the angle between the solstices, they were added later. 

A final addition was made with another arc at the bottom, which is surrounded by multiple strokes. This symbol has been given various interpretations, including the possibility that it represents the Milky Way.

Current research indicates that the people who made the disk came from the Bronze Age Unetice culture.

The style of the disk is unique and in a manner not known from that period. As a result, the object was initially suspected of being a forgery, but it is now acknowledged as authentic and a critical ancient artifact.

Discovery of the Nebra Sky Disk

The disk was discovered at a site in Germany near Nebra, Saxony-Anhalt.

The disk, two bronze swords, two hatchets, a chisel, and fragments of spiral bracelets were discovered in 1999 by two treasure-hunters with a metal detector.

The treasure-hunters were operating without a license. In their rush, they damaged the disk with their spade and destroyed parts of the site. The next day they sold the entire hoard to a dealer in Cologne.

The hoard changed hands within Germany over the next two years with increasing values.

In 2002 the state archaeologist acquired the disk in a police-led sting operation in Basel from sellers who had put it on the black market.

The original illegal treasure-hunters were identified and, in a plea bargain, disclosed the discovery site. The two looters eventually received prison sentences.

Archaeologists opened a dig at the site and continued their investigation. The discovery site is a prehistoric enclosure encircling the top of an elevation in the Ziegelroda Forest, known as Mittelberg, west of Leipzig.

The surrounding area is known to have been settled in the Neolithic era, and the Ziegelroda Forest contains approximately 1,000 barrows. The artifacts were discovered within a pit inside the bank-and-ditch enclosure.

Nebra Sky Disk - Oldest Map of the Night Sky

Nebra Sky Disk, German commemorative 10 EUR coin, 2008

Significance of the Nebra Sky Disk

The disk is an astronomical instrument, as well as an item of religious significance. This ancient artifact has reconfirmed that the astronomical knowledge and abilities of the people from the European Bronze Age.

Their knowledge included the close observation of the yearly course of the Sun and the angle between its rising and setting points at the summer and winter solstices.

While much older earthworks and megalithic astronomical complexes are known to mark the solstices, the disk is the oldest portable instrument to allow such measurements. 

Unetice Culture

Nebra Sky Disk is believed to have been created by the Unetice culture.

The Únětice culture is an archaeological term for a culture that developed at the start of the Central European Bronze Age, dated roughly to about 2300–1600 BC.

The culture is named after the village of Únětice, which is located in the central Czech Republic, northwest of Prague. The Únětice culture is known from about 1,400 sites, which are distributed over a wide area of Central Europe and beyond.

The culture is distinguished by its characteristic metal objects, including ingot torcs, flat axes, flat triangular daggers, bracelets with spiral ends, disk- and paddle-headed pins, and curl rings.

The famous Sky Disk of Nebra is associated with the Central Germany groups of the Únětice culture.

Pleiades

The Nebra sky disk has a cluster of dots in the upper right portion of the disk, which are believed to represent the Pleiades.

The Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters and Messier 45, is an open star cluster. It is among the star clusters nearest Earth and is the cluster most obvious to the naked eye in the night sky. It is part of the constellation of Taurus.

The name of the Pleiades comes from Ancient Greek. It probably derives from the Greek word “to sail” because of the cluster’s importance in determining the sailing season in the Mediterranean Sea.

Mythology may provide an even older source for the name of Pleiades as “the seven divine sisters.” The ancient name for the stars may derive from that of their mother, Pleione, and effectively meaning “daughters of Pleione.”

Nebra Sky Disk

  • Artifact:              Nebra Sky Disk
  • Date:                  1600 BC
  • Material:             Bronze and Gold
  • Culture:              Unetice culture
  • Found at:           Present-day Germany near Nebra, Saxony-Anhalt, 
  • Dimensions:      30 centimeters (11 3⁄4 in) diameter and a weight of 2.2 kilograms (4.9 lb)
  • Type:                  Ancient Artifact
  • Museums:         Halle State Museum of Prehistory (Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte), Halle, Germany

Understanding the Nebra Sky Disc

Nebra Star Disc Fingerprint

 

Virtual Tour of Prehistoric Art and Artifacts

Nebra Sky Disk

A Virtual Tour of Ancient Historical Artifact

The famous Nebra Sky Disk

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“The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.”
– Marcus Aurelius

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Photo Credit:1) Anagoria / CC BY (creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0); Stphn / CC BY-SA (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

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