The Nebra Sky Disc displays the world’s oldest known concrete depiction of the heavens, and is a unique piece of evidence for the history of humanity. The round bronze disc is 3600 years old and measures 32 cm in diameter. It shows the sun – on some interpretations the full moon –, a crescent moon and a total of 32 golden stars. Seven of them are clustered together and are interpreted as a star map of the Pleiades. At the edges, so-called horizon arcs and the image of a ship were later added. The ship is interpreted as the ‘sun barque’, a mythical element on the bronze disc. Later again, holes were punched through the edge of the Sky Disc. One of the horizon arcs was removed or lost.
The importance of the Nebra Sky Disc as the oldest concrete depiction of cosmic phenomena is also reflected in its inscriptionto the UNESCO document heritageregister "Memory of the World", which took place in June 2013.
The State Museum of Prehistory offers more informatione about the Sky Disc: www.himmelsscheibe.de.
Read more about the UNESCO World heritage in Saxony-Anhalt: www.world-heritage-saxony-anhalt.com/the-inspiring-six/overview.
The Sky Disc, so far as we now know, was used as an astronomical memory aid for people watching the heavens in the Bronze Age. The Pleiades would have been used to fix the time for sowing and harvesting, and so to structure the agricultural year. This connection is mentioned by the Greek poet Hesiod and was probably already known at the start of the neolithic period.
The astronomical investigations by the astronomer Wolfhard Schlosser have shown, among other things, that the horizon arcs at the sides of the disc mark the points when the sun rises and sets in the course of a year and that their ends also indicate important points in the landscape as viewed from the findspot of the Sky Disc on the plateau of Mittelberg hill.
According to the interpretation of the astronomer Rahlf Hansen, the Sky Disc also encrypts a complex intercalary rule that served to harmonise the solar and lunar years. The abstract representations on the disc are extraordinary, because they presuppose decades of precise celestial observations and a high level of abstraction, which had hitherto only been suspected for the Bronze Age in the civilisations of the ancient Near East. In addition, the disc lets us infer details of the Bronze Age view of the world: the sky vaults over the flat earth like a dome.
The Sky Disc was not discovered in a regular excavation.
The story of its discovery is a complicated, dramatic tale that reads like a detective novel: two men dug up the disc in 1999, finding it together with two richly decorated swords, two axes, the remains of two spiral armbands and a chisel, on Mittelberg hill in Wangen near Nebra. The two illegal excavators, who had been searching with a metal detector for prehistoric metal finds, had no intention of properly reporting the discovery to the State Office for Archaeology, as required by the treasure trove regulations in Saxony Anhalt. Instead they sold them. After passing through further hands – the objects were also offered to museums for sale – they were successfully confiscated in 2002 in a hotel in Basle, in a fake deal set up by the State Archaeologist Dr. Harald Meller with the help of the police.
Thanks to police investigations, it was possible to trace the find back to Mittelberg hill (arche-nebra/fundort- der-himmelsscheibe/) and to the illegal excavators who found it. Subsequent excavations at the findspot, the investigations into the authenticity of the finds, the information established about their age and importance and, not least, the court cases against the illegal excavators and dealers, brought media attention from around the world.
Since their confiscation, the objects have been in the possession of the State of Saxony Anhalt. The Sky Disc and the finds discovered with it can be seen in the permanent exhibition of the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle.