Nebra Skydisc

 

  • Age: 1600 - 1560 BC
  • Material: Gold / Bronze
  • Found: Nebra, Saxony-Anhalt (Germany) on 4th July 1999
  • Present Location: State Museum of Prehistory
  • Diameter: 32cm
  • Weight: 2.2Kg

move cursor over images to magnify replica

Discovery:

The skydisc, along with two bronze swords, two hatchets, a chisel and fragments of spiral bracelets were discovered by Henry Westphal and Mario Renner while illegally treasure hunting with a metal detector near the summit of  Mittelberg ("central hill"), 60 km west of Leipzig in the summer of 1999. Unfortunately the Skydisc (along with the site) was significantly damaged during this time. The two men were looking for weapons and artefacts from the World War II. 

The metal detectorists immediately sold the hoard for 31,000DM to a dealer in Cologne. It was then sold and passed through the hands of various dealers in the following years and by 2001 knowledge of its existence became public. In February 2002 the finds were impounded by the Basle police, who worked with the State of Saxony-Anhalt's Landeskriminalamt (State Criminal Investigation Office), Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs and State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology (Harald Meller), following a sting operation in Basel from a couple who had put it on the black market for 700,000DM. Westphal and Renner were eventually traced and they agreed to lead police and archaeologists to the discovery site - both men received suspended sentences and put on probation.

Initially there was doubt that the Skydisc was genuine and it was declared a hoax by Peter Schauer of the University of Regensburg (Germany) and Richard Harrison, professor of European prehistory at the University of Bristol; however at the time neither men had seen the Skydisc. Archaeologists examined the site and found traces of bronze artefacts and gathered earth samples that matched particles on the hoard; also a fragment of gold leaf exactly fitting the gap present in the gold leaf covering on the 'sun' symbol was recovered.

Use / Meaning:

The Nebra sky disc has a blue-green patina and inlaid with gold symbols which are generally thought to represent the sun, a lunar crescent and stars. A cluster of seven dots has been interpreted as the Pleiades constellation (also known as the Seven Sisters or M45) as it appeared 3,600 years ago, along with the major planets of Mars, Venus and Mercury. This has been intepreted by some, including Andis Kaulins, as depicting the Vernal Equinox at the time of the solar eclipse of 16th April 1699 BC.

( © Andis Kaulins - with kind permission )

It is thought that the purpose of the Skydisc was to help determine when to sow grain or harvest crops. At sunset, a point on the Sky Disc was aligned with the Brocken, a mountain visible for many miles in the Nebra area.

German researchers discovered that during the 400 years that the disc was in use, it was modified. The perforations on the edge of the disc and a "Sun Ship" were added after the original construction, suggesting that the knowledge about the lunar calendar somehow changed.

Since the 23rd of May 2008, the hoard has been on display at the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle; its importance meant that the Skydisc was included into the UNESCO's Memory of the World register in June 2013.

Dating / Materials:

Dating of the Nebra Skydisc has been difficult owning to the nature of discovery and no direct context of artefacts in situ. However a number of bronze weapons were offered for sale with the disc and were reputed to be from the same site in Germany; axes and swords have been typologically dated to the mid 2nd millennium BC. Furthermore radiocarbon dating of a birchbark particle found on one of the swords showed it to between 1600 and 1560 BC.

An analysis of the materials used to construct the Sky Disc indicated the source of metals as follows:

  • Gold: orginated from the river Carnon in Cornwall
  • Copper: originated at Bischofshofen in Austria
  • Tin: originated from Cornwall

The disc has been associated with the Únětice culture, who lived about 2300–1600 BC in Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Austria and Germany. The Únětice culture was first discovered in 1879 by Czech amateur archaeologist Čeněk Rýzner (1845-1923), who found a cemetery with over 50 inhumations on Holý Vrch, the hill overlooking the village of Únětice.

More Info:

10 Euro Nebra Skydisc issued in 2008

 


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