Nebra Sky Disk: The Oldest Known Realistic Depiction of the Heavens

The Nebra Sky DiskPhoto: Dbachmann

In 1990, two treasure hunters, wandering on Mittelberg Hill, near Nebra, Germany, discovered a mysterious disc. Buried about 3,500 years ago, the disc was an archaeological sensation. With just a 15 cm radius, this ordinary-looking artifact nevertheless seemed to contain important astronomical knowledge as well as hidden religious significance.

The corroded disc had gold decorations in the form of the sun or full moon and was dark green in color. It was filled with representations of 32 stars,
had curved bands at the edges, and had as many as 40 small holes punched around its perimeter. Later, closer inspection of this disc inlaid with gold symbols revealed it to be the oldest known representation of the heavens.

The swords found with the diskPhoto: DbachmannTwo swords found with the disk

The site of this incredible find also contained two swords, a chisel, axe heads and bracelets. On the basis of the associated artifacts, scientific analysis and archaeological investigations, it was now clear that the hoard was deposited around 1600BC in a shallow pit on the Mittelberg Hill.

Among all the stars marked on the disc, one can’t ignore the group of seven stars which probably represent the star cluster Pleiades, though no other constellations could be identified. Furthermore, 30 spherical dots probably symbolize the 30-day count system used to describe the solar month.

The thickness of the crescent moon appears to correspond to that of the moon as it would have appeared in a leap year. Meanwhile, a golden arc bordered by fine lines may have represented a ship. The disc was not only a calendar but also served as a navigation tool in ancient Germany. To understand the working of such a great memory device more clearly visit here.

Other associated finds: chisel, axeheads, braceletsPhoto: DbachmannOther associated finds: chisel, axeheads, bracelets

Unearthed illegally and sold on through the art market, the disc is now housed in the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle, Germany. The Nebra Sky Disc fundamentally changes our picture of the Bronze Age Unetice culture (an early Bronze Age culture, followed by the Tumulus culture) and reveals a precise knowledge of the movements of the celestial bodies possessed by our ancestors.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4