Nebra’s celestial disk has been hailed as the oldest known representation of the cosmos. Discovered by looters in 1999, then recovered during an injection by archaeologists and the police a few years later, the ancient bronze artefact, encrusted with golden decorations of the night sky, provoked heated debates.
Today, two German archaeologists question the age and origin of the disc, adding another chapter to the intricate saga of the enchanting object.
The disc is currently estimated to be around 3,600 years old, dating to the Bronze Age. The looters who initially discovered him said he was buried on top of a hill near the town of Nebra in Germany, next to weapons from the same era.
Rupert Gebhard, director of the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection in Munich, and Rüdiger Krause, professor of ancient European history at Goethe University in Frankfurt, now suggest that the disc be a product of the Age of iron, which would make it about 1,000 years younger.
The researchers also argue that the disc was most likely moved by looters to the Nebra site from another location, meaning it may not be associated with the other artifacts, or with Nebra himself, according to a study published this month in the journal Archäologische Informationen.
“We see the disc as a single find, as a single artifact, because nothing is suitable for it in the surrounding area,” said Dr Krause.
The National Museum of Prehistory in Halle, Germany, which exhibits the sky disc of Nebra, issued a statement calling the team’s findings “patently incorrect” and “easily refuted”.
“The biggest mistake in science is not referring to the data set,” said Harald Meller, director of the museum. “What these colleagues do is refer only to very limited data that seems to fit their system.”
Dr Gebhard and Dr Krause have expressed doubts about several previous hypotheses regarding the disc.
The artefact is believed to be affiliated with the Bronze Age objects in part because the soil on the objects indicated a common period, but the study indicates conflicting court documents regarding these assessments. Some of the weapons associated with the disc may not date from the Bronze Age or come from the same deposit, according to Dr Gebhard and Dr Krause.
Researchers suspect that the original raiders may have moved the artifacts to Nebra’s location to keep their site a secret from professional archaeologists.
“They never tell you where they dug because it’s like a treasure chest for them,” Dr Gebhard said. “They just go back to the same place to get and sell new material. “
Disputes over the authenticity of Nebra’s celestial disk are not uncommon. Its spectacular design has impressed both experts and the public, but it also raised concerns that it could be a fake.
“The problem here is that this is a unique case,” said Alison Sheridan, former president of the Prehistoric Society, which is not involved in either team. “That’s why people said, maybe it’s a fake.”
Emilia Pásztor, an archaeologist at the Türr István Museum in Hungary who has studied the disc, noted that her black market background amplifies these uncertainties.
“The Nebra disc, due to the circumstances of the find,” she said, “belongs to those archaeological finds which can be debated forever until a very precise absolute dating method can be found. for metals. “
Yet, there is now a strong consensus that Nebra’s Heavenly Disk is a bona fide ancient artifact.
” It’s original. It’s not a fake, ”Dr Krause said of the disc. “What you can get out of this is a very interesting scientific discussion that shows the different aspects, or purposes, of how to judge this object, whether in the Bronze Age or the Iron Age.”
To that end, Dr. Meller’s team intends to publish a rebuttal of the new study. Other archaeologists think they will have enough to work on.
“What has been presented here certainly doesn’t blow up the argument that this is the Bronze Age,” Dr. Sheridan said of the new study.