Nebra Sky Disk Could Be Younger than First Thought

by johnsmith

The Nebra sky disk, one of the oldest concrete depictions of cosmic phenomena, was created in the first millennium BCE, roughly 1,000 years later than previously assumed, according to new research by German scientists.

The Nebra sky disk. Image credit: Dbachmann / CC BY-SA 3.0.

The Nebra sky disk. Image credit: Dbachmann / CC BY-SA 3.0.

The Nebra sky disk is a bronze disk of around 32 cm (12.6 inches) diameter and a mass of 2.2 kg, having a blue-green patina and inlaid with gold symbols.

The metal artifact was found in 1999 by illegal treasure hunters near Nebra, a small town in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany.

The Nebra disk was apparently developed in several stages. Its earliest version had 32 small round gold circles attached, a large circular gold plate, and a large crescent-shaped gold plate.

The circular plate may be interpreted as either the Sun or the full Moon, the crescent shape as the crescent Moon, or either the Sun or the Moon undergoing eclipse, and the dots as stars, with the cluster of seven dots likely representing the Pleiades.

Later, two arcs — constructed from gold of a different origin — were added at opposite edges of the disk. Given that the arcs seem to relate to solar phenomena, it is likely the circular gold plate represents the Sun, not the Moon.

Finally, another arc was added at the bottom. This arc is called the Sun boat and is also made of gold, but from a different origin. When the disk was buried it had 39-40 holes, each about 3 mm in diameter, perforated around its perimeter.

The Nebra disk is considered authentic and was initially dated to 1600 BCE based on associated finds: two bronze swords, a chisel, axe heads, and bracelets.

“The discovery context was important for the scientific dating, as the disk itself could neither be scientifically nor archeologically dated by comparison with other objects,” said Dr. Rupert Gebhard of the Munich Archäologischen Staatssammlung and Goethe University Frankfurt’s Professor Rüdiger Krause.

“Many years of investigations by several research groups attempted to verify both the attribution to the supposed discovery site as well as the common origins of the objects independent of the vague information given by the looters.”

In the new research, they extensively analyzed all circumstances of the Nebra sky disk’s discovery and the results of previous studies.

“The site that was considered the discovery site until today and which was investigated in subsequent excavations is with high probability not the discovery site of the looters,” they said.

“Furthermore, there is no convincing evidence that the Bronze Age swords, axes and bracelets form an ensemble of common origins.”

“For this reason, it must be assumed that this is not a typical Bronze Age deposit and that the disk was not found together with the other objects in an original state at the excavation site.”

“This means that the disk must be regarded as an individual object in itself with regard to dating,” they said.

“Culturally and stylistically, the sky disk cannot be fitted into the Early Bronze Age motif world of the beginning of the second millennium BCE.”

“On the contrary, clearer references can be made to the motif world of the Iron Age of the first millennium BCE.”

The team’s paper was published in the journal Archäologische Informationen.


Rupert Gebhard & Rüdiger Krause. Critical comments on the find complex of the so-called Nebra Sky Disk. Archäologische Informationen, published online September 3, 2020

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