The Nebra Sky Disc is one of the most important archaeological finds of the past century.
It shows the world’s oldest concrete depiction of astronomical phenomena that we know. And I’m proud to say that not only did I see it in person. I also got to visit the location where it was discovered!
Now it’s time to explore more together…
The Nebra Sky Disk in Germany (Nebra Ark Overview)
Arche Nebra Himmelsscheibe Museum (Nebra Ark Walk-Through)
The Nebra Sky Disk at the British Museum (Exhibition Overview)
The World of Stonehenge Exhibition (Exhibition Walk-Through)
Mission Cosmic Kiss Meets Nebra Sky Disk Onboard ISS
WHAT IS THE NEBRA SKY DISC? A SHORT HISTORY
- WHAT IS THE NEBRA SKY DISC? A SHORT HISTORY
- WHERE WAS THE NEBRA SKY DISC FOUND?
- HOW WAS THE NEBRA SKY DISC FOUND?
- HOW OLD IS THE NEBRA DISC?
- WHAT MATERIAL IS THE NEBRA DISC?
- WHAT COLOUR IS THE NEBRA DISC?
- WHAT SIZE IS THE NEBRA DISC?
- HOW HEAVY IS THE NEBRA DISC?
- WHAT WAS THE NEBRA DISC USED FOR?
- WHAT ELSE WAS FOUND IN THE NEBRA HOARD?
- WHAT CAN YOU SEE ON THE NEBRA DISC?
- WHY ARE THE PLEIADES ON THE NEBRA DISC?
- WHY ARE THERE HOLES IN THE NEBRA DISC?
- IN WHAT ORDER WAS THE NEBRA DISC MADE?
- WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE NEBRA STAR DISC?
- WHY IS THIS OBJECT SO IMPORTANT?
- FURTHER READING
WHERE WAS THE NEBRA SKY DISC FOUND?
Right next to the small German town of Wangen (Saxony-Anhalt region), lies ‘Nebra’, where in a forest at the Mittelberg plateau, the Sky Disk was found.
The Mittelbergplateau is enclosed by an Iron Age ring wall and bounded by two section walls. These days, the ring wall of the older Iron Age is partially restored in the form of a grassy mound.
The enclosure is oriented in such a way that the sun seems to set every solstice behind the Brocken, the highest peak of the Harz mountains, some 80 km to the north-west.
HOW WAS THE NEBRA SKY DISC FOUND?
The story of the Nebra Disc could have come straight out of a mystery novel:
In 1999, two treasure hunters (Henry Westphal and Mario Renner) found something that let their metal detector go wild. In the midst of a dense forest, they discovered a huge bronze disk alongside a few other items such as swords and bracelets.
Now, of course this find was clearly amazing, but because they were so clueless about how to properly excavate a site (and quite frankly didn’t give a shit), they damaged the disk with their spades and destroyed parts of the site, only to sell their loot as soon as possible for a few thousand German Marks to a dealer in Cologne.
In the two years after that, the items changed hands a few times, raising the prize to over a million DM and in 2002, finally someone with a sense of historical importance (state archaeologist Harald Meller) located the items and traced the original finders, who were forced to lead archaeologists to the discovery site.
Now, this is where the party began. Because while at first people didn’t believe the treasures were real, the dig and soil samples from the site showed evidence that supported the looters’ claims. Into the State Museum of Prehistory the items moved (and into court the two idiots went), and on the original location, a museum called ‘Arche Nebra’ (Nebra Ark) was founded.
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HOW OLD IS THE NEBRA DISC?
The date of the Nebra Disk is set at circa 1600 BC. and has been associated with the Bronze Age Únětice culture.
Because the disk was found under such suspicious circumstances, and without any archaeological context, it proved to be very difficult to accurately date it.
The precise dating of the disk was done by dating the Bronze Age weapons that were buried along with it. They did tests of the wood and gold on the artifacts and with all information together, they managed to narrow the age of the hoard down.
WHAT MATERIAL IS THE NEBRA DISC?
The Nebra Disk is made from bronze.
WHAT COLOUR IS THE NEBRA DISC?
The Nebra Disk has a blue-green surface, inlaid with gold symbols.
The blue-green ‘night sky’ background of the disk seems to once be more of a deep violet-blue, apparently by applying rotten eggs, causing a chemical reaction on the bronze surface.
WHAT SIZE IS THE NEBRA DISC?
The Nebra Disk has a diameter of 12 inches (about 30 cm) .
HOW HEAVY IS THE NEBRA DISC?
The Nebra Disk weighs 4.9 pounds (2,2 kilograms).
WHAT WAS THE NEBRA DISC USED FOR?
Many researchers believe the Nebra Sky Disc was used as some sort of astronomical calculation tool to determine planting and harvest times, which in that time was of course very important.
WHAT ELSE WAS FOUND IN THE NEBRA HOARD?
Besides the Nebra Disc itself, two bronze swords, two hatchets, a chisel and fragments of spiral bracelets were found.
WHAT CAN YOU SEE ON THE NEBRA DISC?
The Nebra disc truly is the oldest map of the stars. The symbols on the Nebra Disk are interpreted as being a golden full moon, a lunar crescent and several golden stars, including a cluster of stars that is almost certain the Pleiades constellation.
Along the side of the disk, there are two more golden arcs that were added later and supposedly mark the angle between solstices.
Another symbol is also not so obvious: a boat-shaped object at the bottom of the disk seems to appear between the horizons on a night voyage across the celestial ocean. This was perhaps to indicate the movement of day into night. The boat appears to be sailing from west to east.
A boat on the sky disc is an extraordinary depiction from this time period, especially because its place of discovery is far from the sea. It suggests that people of the region had knowledge of other cultures far away from home.
That said, the true meaning of this arch will always remain uncertain, and it’s has also been interpreted as a being the Milky Way, or even a rainbow. Who knows?!
WHY ARE THE PLEIADES ON THE NEBRA DISC?
The depiction of Pleiades on the Nebra Sky Disc carried an important intercalary rule.
Every three years, when the Pleiades was next to a moon matching the thickness of that depicted on the Sky Disc, a leap month was inserted. This compensated for the shifting of the months and important holidays throughout the year.
The Pleiades is a constellation that would have appeared in the sky in the autumn, which is harvest time, and disappear in Spring, when it’s time to plant the crops. This makes it also plausible that the third golden arc under the moon and stars is actually a sickle.
WHY ARE THERE HOLES IN THE NEBRA DISC?
Along the side of the Nebra disc, you can see all these little holes. Researchers believe they are for attaching the disc to something, perhaps a piece of cloth.
IN WHAT ORDER WAS THE NEBRA DISC MADE?
First, the full moon, the waxing moon and the Pleiades were added to the Nebra Sky Disc.
Then followed the addition of the arcs on the sides (one of which is now missing) and shifting/covering of some individual stars.
The arc at the bottom of the disc was added last, and finally, the disc was restored in later years.
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WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE NEBRA STAR DISC?
NEBRA ARK VISITOR CENTRE
At the original location where the disk was found, there is now a striking visitors center with ‘golden’ roof that tells you all about the stories and interpretations of the disk.
I visited the Nebra Sky Disk museum in Germany a few years ago, as I happened to stumble upon it during a press trip in the region!
This ‘Arche Nebra‘ building was designed by Holzer Kobler Architekturen (click to see their project page) from Zurich, completed in 2007, and is aligned with the large panorama window on the 30 m high lookout tower at the location of the sky disc. A glazed roof window also directs the view from the foyer upwards and establishes the connection to the sky.
In the museum, there is one main exhibition space (click for the design project page) and there is also a planetarium with regular screenings.
TIP: For a full walkthrough of the museum exhibits, check our article titled “Arche Nebra Himmelsscheibe Museum Germany“.
HALLE STATE MUSEUM OF PREHISTORY
While the Nebra Ark Museum is pretty cool, for the real deal you have to go to the Halle State Museum of Prehistory (Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte) in Halle/Saale in Germany.
NEBRA DISK ON TOUR!
That said, I managed to see the unique Bronze Age sky disc on tour in London, at “The World of Stonehenge” exhibition in the British Museum.
You can see a complete overview of this show on our travel blog The Travel Tester, or read more about the objects related to the cosmos here on The Space Tester.
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WHY IS THIS OBJECT SO IMPORTANT?
Modern research reveals that the metals used to make the Disc and the knowledge of its use came from almost all parts of the ancient world. The gold elements added later also suggest the influence of further cultures on the Disc and its last, apparently also mythological, use.
It demonstrates a communication network and international cooperation that was wide-ranging for the time, and which is still crucial for the creation and dissemination of knowledge in today’s space era – with a return to the Moon in sight.
For me personally, the Sky Disc is a confirmation of the idea that the astronomical knowledge and abilities of the people of the European Bronze Age were so far ahead, and probably even better than most people have today.
The importance of the Nebra Sky Disc as the oldest concrete depiction of cosmic phenomena is also reflected in its inscription to the UNESCO document heritage register “Memory of the World”, which took place in June 2013.
While me might never find out the true meaning of the disk, it will forever stay with us as a reminder of the incredible universe we live in and all the mysteries it still holds for us!
FUN FACT: Did you know a replica of the Nebra Sky Disk was flown to the ISS? This was part of ESA’s Mission Cosmic Kiss. Click to read more!
TOP 100 SPACE EXPERIENCES
I’ve set myself the goal to find – and complete – 100 of the world’s top space experiences.
Ranging from activities that help train your astronaut skills, to visiting amazing space centers, observatories and planetariums, but also discovering moon landscapes and visiting the best archaeo-astronomical and stargazing sites and events.
If you’re interested to read more about astro-archeaological locations on Earth, then I can recommend checking out our article on visiting Stonehenge from London on our travel blog The Travel Tester.
Other interesting sites close to the Nebra Ark Museum in Germany are:
- Observation Tower on Mittelberg (shaped like the pointer of an oversized sundial – See on Google Maps)
- “Celestial Eye” (marking of the the location of the Nebra Sky Disc on the Mittelberg – see on Google Maps)
- Himmelswege (this trail connects important archeological places in Saxony-Anhalt)
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