The finds from the Nebra hoard in restored condition. Image: State Office for the Preservation of Monuments and Archaeology of Saxony-Anhalt, Juraj Liptak
The Nebra Sky Disk is an icon of archaeology. Now there is an ongoing scholarly dispute and many new findings
The discovery of the Nebra Sky Disk caused a sensation; it is considered one of the most important archaeological finds of the past century. It all started quite unspectacularly with two robber diggers who were roaming through the forest on the Mittelberg near Nebra in Saxony-Anhalt with metal detectors in search of militaria. When one of the devices began to beep, they hacked up the ground and were delighted to find a hoard of two gold-decorated swords, two hatchets, a bronze meibel and arm coils.
They also dug up a heavily encrusted disk, which looked unattractive and seemed to be the centerpiece of a shield to the robber-diggers. They quickly sold their treasure for 31.000 marks, which then passed through some more knowledgeable hands until it was finally offered for sale to various museums of prehistory for the price of one million marks.
A whodunit and a sensation
However, the offer was illegal, because treasure finds of scientific importance from Saxony-Anhalt belong to the state. For the sake of appearances, the State Office for Archaeology entered into negotiations and arranged a meeting in Basel in 2002, where the alleged buyer, the state archaeologist Harald Meller, brought the police with him and seized the treasure.1
The fences and robbery diggers subsequently had to answer to the court, but revealed to the archaeologists the exact location of the find, where during a scientific re-excavation the remains of the stone cist were discovered, in which 3.600 years ago, all the finds had been solemnly buried as offerings to the gods. The so-called horticultural phenomenon was widespread throughout Europe in the Bronze Age, from the Mediterranean to southern Sweden and from the Black Sea to the Atlantic coast. Sacrificed and ritually buried were mainly pieces of bronze, but also small pieces of gold.
In the hands of scientists, the sky disk turned out to be a real sensation, because it is not only sensationally already, but also the world’s oldest concrete representation of the night sky and astronomical phenomena. That is why it has been included in UNESCO’s World Documentary Heritage since 2013.
The disc weighs about two kilograms, has a diameter of 31.4 cm and is made of very soft bronze (with a tin content of only 2.5 percent). It was cold forged, its rim is about 1.7 mm thick, the center 4.5 mm and the round plate is slightly concave wooled. The celestial bodies depicted on it are made of gold sheet, which was applied by means of the Tauschier technique, by pressing it into previously drawn grooves.
It shows a crescent moon, sun or full moon and a total of 32 golden stars, seven of which are very close together like the constellation of the Pleiades. At the edge there are also later added horizon arcs and below a curved sun barque gliding through the night.2