The Nebra Sky Disk, a.k.a. the oldest picture of the stars, may be 1,000 years younger according to new research

The Nebra Sky Disk, a.k.a. the oldest picture of the stars, may be 1,000 years younger according to new research
The Nebra Sky Disk, belonging to the State Museum of Prehistory in Germany, has intrigued for decades. Now researchers believe it might be 1,000 years younger than originally thought. Courtesy the State Museum of Prehistory.
Leading lights  -   Experts

Two decades ago, looters discovered a trove of artefacts thought to be from the Bronze Age. Among those items was a disk now known as the Nebra Sky Disc and until a recent report, it was thought to be 3,600 years old. Now, a new study proposes that the disk is in fact from the Iron Age meaning it might be as much as a millennia younger.

The Nebra Sky Disc was discovered by looters in 1999 who claimed to have found it with a hoard of other artefacts. Four years later, the disc was recovered by authorities in Switzerland during a raid for objects being traded on the black market and the looters maintained that they’d found the disk in Germany.

Roughly a foot in diameter, the disk consists of a bronze plate adorned with a gold crescent moon, a potential depiction of the sun, a series of stars, and the Pleiades constellation. The interpretations of the disc vary and its reason for being remains a mystery, although there are a number of possibilities, it is thought to have been an object was used to track the lunar and solar calendars to monitor crop cycles. It’s long held the titled as the oldest depiction of the night sky and in 2013, UNESCO referred to the disk as “one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century.”

Important as it may be, the Nebra Sky Disk’s history has been scrutinised by some who’ve thought it may be a fake. Then, in an article published at the beginning of September in  Archäologische Informationen, a German journal, archaeologists Rupert Gebhard and Rüdiger Krause proposed that the disk was actually from the Iron Age as opposed to the Bronze Age, making it 1,000 years younger than initially believed. According to their publication, Gebhard and Krause argue that the disk was most likely moved by the looters and that it is not otherwise linked to the other artefacts found alongside it in Nebra. To support their claims, the pair reference soil deposits originally used to link the objects, but, after further examination, don’t actually match.

The authenticity of the Nebra Sky Disk has been questioned before, much in part thanks to it’s one-off nature. However, with their findings, Gebhard and Rüdiger contend that the artefact is genuine, but that the looters moved it in order to evade authorities to a site where they might find more artefacts, which the looters would have wanted to keep to themselves.

The disk is kept in Halle, Germany at the State Museum of Prehistory, which issued a statement refuting the findings of Gebhard and Rüdiger. “The biggest mistake in science is if you don’t refer to the whole data,” Harald Meller, director of the State Museum of Prehistory told The New York Times. “What these colleagues do is refer only to very limited data that seems to fit their system.”