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The Nebra Star Disc: A key to heaven

It eclipses Stonehenge, keeps up with Ötzi's enthralling history and was sold by tomb raiders for foolish 15.000 Euros like a luxury Frisbee to a fence: Researchers now reveal the secret of the mysterious "Nebra Star Disc".

The phenomenal, still disputed Nebra Star Disc tomb raider trove
Picture by State Office of Archeology Sachsen-Anhalt/Juraj Lipták

Dr. Harald Meller still sounds exited if he talks about the totally whimsical movie-like story of February 23 in 2002, when he suddenly in the Hilton's basement café in Basel happened to hold the oldest delineation of the sky in his hands: "Circa 50 German and Swiss detectives were alert, to catch the fence or the fences. And I already felt very queasy, because they lost sight of us. Anyway the guy wanted 380.000 Euros for the two kilos heavy bronze disc, which covered with a towel he was hiding under his shirt. That's why I assumed he is gun-toting. The fence has outwitted the police, that's why my cell phone with which I should send the mission signal didn't work in the basement. Only when I deceitfully put an urgent need on as an emergency and from the toilette was able to send my signal, he got caught in the trap..."

But the tremulousness was worthwhile: The ominous dirty disc was not only genuine, but one of the most sensational archeological troves of Europe. Because the with gold plate in the bronze disc applied almost childish looking delineation of moon and stars is not only the oldest image of the firmament, but also a precise instrument which is able to exactly mark out the days of solstice, which in the early bronze age were important for sowings and harvest and for the cattle drovers. An amazingly progressive key for the heaven, which beside its practical benefit was also a symbol of power for the reigning princes of that time.

This is how one can imagine the world view portrayed on the Nebra Star Disc

What the experts are enthusiastic about aside from that: According to the disc's delineation, the "Cupola World View" of the Greek of Thales of Milet from circa 600 BC was already prevalent in Europe more than 1000 years before the great mathematician and philosopher. The disc was already apparently 400 years in use, before it was added to a grave circa 1600 BC so they found out: People at that time apparently had imagined the earth as a disc with a stars adorned firmament above and a barque, leading the sun back to its starting point after its daily way on heaven. Such a sun ship, which happened to be also the old world view of Egypt, is also visible on the Southern edge of the Nebra disc.

A Team of about 15 people around the archeologist Prof. Meller, the astronomer Prof. Wolfhard Schlosser and the Austrian metal expert Prof. Ernst Pernicka has now analyzed the sensational trove of Mittelberg in the German federal state Sachsen-Anhalt with all the means of most modern science. In doing so there were some surprises. They found out, that the copper in the bronze alloy doesn't come from the habitat, but supposedly its origin is the nearly 400 kilometers distant ore mine Mitterberg on the Hochkönig of Salzburg. The gold stems from the nowadays Rumanian Transylvania. The fancy method with which it was applied to the disc, was until now only known from the contemporary region of Greece and Turkey.

Archeologist Dr. Harald Meller with his most valuable exhibit, the Nebra Star Disc in the German State Museum of Prehistory
Picture by State Office of Archeology Sachsen-Anhalt

"Somehow", so Dr. Meller in the interview: "there must have been a kind of technology transfer up to the Northern part of Europe, about we do not no anything yet. Because the astronomic dates, the image of the Pleiades asterism with a link to the two gold crescents in the East and in the West (one of them has been lost: see picture above)with their meter angle of exactly 82.5 degrees are only valid here around the region of Nebra. If the disc for example would have been produced in Austria or in the Mediterranean area, then both of the crescents would have come shorter as a result of the somehow different course of the sun."

Not much older than Nebra's key of heaven, which should have been used since circa 2000 BC is another star of the European prehistory: the legendary stone monuments of Stonehenge in Southern England, which around ca. 2100 until 1600 BC was not only a cult site, but also indicator for the days of solstice and alternation of day and night in the annual calendar.

The Nebra Star Disc during its restoration and detective dating experiment

In spite of the amazing measuring instruments and although Babylonians, Egyptians and Chinese already a thousand years before Christ calculated the year with 365 days and knew the leap years through solely observing the sun, moon and the stars, the earth and not the sun was believed to be the center of the world view until Copernicus and Galileo in the 16th and 17th century. And even if the Greek revolutionary Pythagoras claimed already 550 BC that the earth should be a globe, the picture of the world as a disc from which one could fall down, stayed obstinately in the mind of many men up to the medieval age.

By the way the "Nebra Star Disc" is to be seen in the German State Museum of Prehistory in Halle from October 2004 until spring 2005. And as Austrian after all there is a patriotic little thing, which one is ahead of German exhibition visitors: The oldest heaven of the world wouldn't mean anything indeed without copper from Austria...

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© A report by Tobias Micke (10-10-04) – Contact