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The Oldest Map of Stars: Nebra Sky Disc

The Nebra Sky Disc is a decorated bronze plate with gold symbols, like the Sun, the crescent-shaped Moon, and 32 stars. The symbols are made of gold and didn’t corrode. Being dated to the end of the Early Bronze Age around 1.600 BC, the Sky Disc is the world’s oldest representation of the cosmos.

Found by some treasure hunters in 1999, it’s been named “the Nebra Sky Disc” after the town of Nebra, Germany, near the site where the disc was found. Following its discovery in 1999, the disc spent over three years on the black market until the authorities seized the relic in a sting operation in February 2002.

nebra sky disc

Mock representation of the sky disc and the hoard of other artifacts it was found with. Photographer: 4tuneQkie on Flickr

The artifact measures about 30 centimeters wide and weighs 2,2 kilograms. A series of 39 to 40 tiny holes were made along the perimeter. Color-wise, the disc has a bluish-green backdrop punctuated by golden symbols. The Nebra Sky Disc shows the representations of the sun, moon, Pleiades, and three other crescents: two presumed to be the horizon lines and the other a possible ‘Solar Barge’ at the bottom. These representations on the disc conceal a wealth of information: the endpoints of the horizon arcs are aligned to the winter solstice and summer solstice, while the Pleiades, in combination with sun and full and crescent moon, signal the important dates for sowing and harvesting in the farming seasons.

The Phases of the Sky Disc.

The Phases of the Sky Disc.

Radiocarbon dating of the birch bark found on one of the swords in the hoard dates to between 1.600 BC – 1.560 BC. The Nebra Sky Disc was created in four phases. Initially, the disk had the Sun, the crescent moon, and thirty- two small round gold circles representing stars. At a later date, the two side arcs were added, and this was determined by the chemical analysis of the gold. Several generations had probably used the disk before being buried so, it may be much older. Until the discovery of the Sky Disc, no one thought prehistoric people were capable of such precise astronomical knowledge. In June 2013, the Nebra Sky Disc was included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register and termed as one of the most important archaeological finds of the twentieth century.

nebra sky disc

Archaeologists with the sky disc. Photo via gynti_46 on Flickr

Featured Image Credit:  Juraj Lipták, ©Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt.

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