How often does one object have two “This changes everything!” moments? The Nebra Sky Disk may be one of them. Discovered in 1999 with some swords, axes and bracelets by unlicensed treasure hunters (looters) near Nebra, a small town in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, it was first thought to be the earliest known depiction of the cosmos and was dated back to 1600 BCE in the Bronze Age. That would make it a huge find – one befitting of being included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2003 as “one of the most important archaeological finds of the twentieth century.” That’s the Nebra sky disk’s “This changes everything!” moment #1.
“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. 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.”
That’s the Nebra sky disk’s “This changes everything!” moment #2. In a new paper, Rupert Gebhard, Director of the Munich Archäologischen Staatssammlung, and Rüdiger Krause Professor for Prehistory and Early European History at Goethe University Frankfurt, detail how they researched the discovery of the Nebra sky disk. It was believed to have been found in 1999 by Henry Westphal and Mario Renner while they were treasure-hunting with a metal detector without a license. In the process, they also allegedly damaged it with a spade. Panicking they’d be discovered, they sold their cache for 31,000 DM (about $36,500) to a dealer. It was sold multiple times until being recovered in a black market sting operation in 2002. Westphal and Renner were found and confessed to the crime, taking police to where they said they found the disk, knives and other artifacts – a place in the Ziegelroda Forest. Dating of the swords and the site put the origin of the artifacts, including the Nebra sky disk (which could not be dated), in about 1600 BCE, making them Bronze Age items.
Until Gebhard and Krause looked at them.
Their research shows that the items didn’t come from the Nebra site the looters claimed they did. Moreover, the Nebra sky disk doesn’t match the timeframe of the other artifacts, no matter what age they came from. Their initial analysis puts the disk 1000 years later, in the Iron Age. That pretty much changes everything about the Nebra sky disk, whose round gold circles have been interpreted to be stars, while the two large shapes are the Sun and the Moon, with the crescent possibly depicting an eclipse. Seven of the original dots (more of a different type of gold were added later) are thought to represent the Pleiades.
While those minor details of the depictions may not be affected by this new revelation, the award for “Oldest depiction of the cosmos” must be returned and the search continued.
Sorry, Nebra sky disk … this changed everything.