The time period of the Nebra Sky Disk, a disk with the view of the cosmos our ancestors saw depicted in bronze and gold, is unknown. With recent history added into the mix, there are many secrets that this 12-inch disk holds.
by Akshitha Sahu
When we think about our ancestors from the Bronze and Iron Age, there aren’t many commonalities that we think of between ourselves and them. However, our fascination with the night sky today is the same as it was in the past. Just as we document the sky today, it seems that ancient humans did the same. Found in Nebra, Germany, the Nebra Sky Disk is an object from our past that has enough secrets to keep archeologists busy with information about the abilities of our ancestors. As the name suggests, the Nebra Sky Disk is a disk, about 12 inches in diameter, that was used by ancient humans to document the cosmos. According to artnet News, the Nebra Sky Disk has had a history of being smuggled and sold illegally, ever since the object came back to the scientific world in 2002, controversial claims continue to rage on.
But why does this small object invite such controversy? Well, it’s over an arbitrary trait-like age. It turns out that age may not be as arbitrary as some may believe, especially when it has the ability to teach us about the importance of an object. The Nebra Sky Disk is believed to have been made during the Bronze Age, some 3,600 years ago. However, it turns out that this disk may actually be 1,000 years younger, from the Iron Age.
With different archeologists claiming different times of origin, we see a trilemma. When was the Nebra Sky Disk made? In the Bronze Age or the Iron Age? Is there a neutral conclusion?
The question most will inevitably ask pertains to the importance of the argument. Why does age matter at all for this object? The truth is that based on the age of the Nebra Sky Disk, we can tell the importance of the disk itself to our knowledge of ancient human capabilities. If this object were dated to the Bronze Age, the remarkability of this object would be unparalleled. It would become one of the oldest forms of mapping the cosmos. If it were dated to the Iron Age, the Nebra Sky Disk would be far less important.
Comparing the characteristics of the Bronze Age to that of the Nebra Sky Disk, the similarities are unignorable. The Nebra Sky Disk was claimed to be found along with two swords, a chisel, arm spirals, and two axes. In the Bronze Age, this type of offering or “hoards of Bronzes” were commonly seen. The fact the Nebra Sky Disk was found among other similar objects provides sufficient evidence that this artifact belongs to the Bronze Age.
The primary piece of evidence is seen in the small piece of birch wood found on the handle of one of the swords. After carbon dating this piece, it was found to be from 1600 BCE, the Bronze Age. This concrete fact is the basis for the argument supporting this side, and considering that the Nebra Sky Disk and this sword were found together, it’s clear that this object belongs to the Bronze Age.
It’s unnerving, especially for the people of Germany, who hold pride in this object. When considering this point of view, the recent history of this object must be recalled. The New York Times explains that when this object was first discovered, it was sold illegally. Archeologists also argue that this object was placed in Germany recently and was initially found someplace else. To make the object seem more valuable, some argue that it was planted here intentionally. Arguments that insist that because this object was found in a site that often yielded objects from the Bronze Age are refuted because of this claim.
Though unexpected, archeologists also argue that the Nebra Sky Disk wasn’t actually found in a horde. As described earlier, the smugglers claim that it was found in a horde, suggesting an origin in the Bronze Age. But analysis of the soil and trace isotopes show that the Sky Disk wasn’t found in Nebra after all but was only sold in the same horde.
Rupert Gebhard from the University of Munich explains that the iconography of the Nebra Sky Disk points to the symbol being from the Iron Age. Images of the night were very important in identifying the Iron age, and the fact that this is the primary objective of the Nebra Sky Disk leads some to believe that the sky disk truly belongs to the Iron age.
The Neutral Side
Perhaps age is arbitrary. A neutral side in this feud considers that the things this object can teach us are more important than the age of the object. And once we look beyond the age of the object, we may realize that there’s more to the subject than what we know. While it’s difficult to argue that the age of the Nebra Sky Disk is useless, there may be more value in understanding how much else we can learn solely about the capabilities of humans. By learning about the way ancient humans thought, we can learn about how we’ve evolved.
With such an issue, there is no end until we know all there is to know about the Nebra Sky Disk. As we continue to learn more, there may be outcomes we have never considered, and instead of jumping to conclusions about the age of the Nebra Sky Disk, there’s benefit in searching for the facts first. And besides, the prospect of the unknown can tell us more about the present than we can guess.