The Nebra Sky Disc has been hailed as the oldest known representation of the cosmos. Discovered by looters in 1999 and then recovered in a bite by archaeologists and law enforcement a few years later, the ancient bronze artifact, inlaid with gold decorations of the night sky, provoked heated debates.
Now, a pair of German archaeologists question the age and origin of the disc, adding another chapter to the complex saga of the enchanting object.
It is estimated that the disc is currently around 3,600 years old, dating it to the Bronze Age. Looters who initially discovered it said it was buried on a hill near the city of Nebra in Germany, alongside weapons from the same era.
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 Nebra itself, according to a study published this month in the journal Archäologische Informationen.
“We regard the disk as a single discovery, as a single artifact, because nothing fits into it in the surrounding area,” said Dr. Krause.
The State Museum of Prehistory in Halle, Germany, which exhibits the Nebra Sky Disc, released a statement calling the team’s conclusions “demonstrably wrong” and “easily refuted”.
“The biggest mistake in science is if you don’t refer to all the data,” said Harald Meller, director of the museum. ‘What these colleagues are doing is referring only to very limited data that seems to fit their system.’
Dr Gebhard and Dr Krause have raised doubts about several previous hypotheses regarding the disc.
The artifact is believed to be affiliated with Bronze Age elements in part because the soil on the objects indicated a common period, but the study points to conflicting court documents on such assessments. Some of the weapons associated with the disc may not date back to the Bronze Age or come from the same deposit, according to Dr Gebhard and Dr Krause.
Researchers suspect that the original looters may have moved the artifacts to Nebra’s location to keep their site secret from professional archaeologists.
“They never tell you where they dug because it’s like a treasure chest to them,” said Dr. Gebhard. “They come back to the same place to get and sell new material.”
Controversies over the authenticity of the Nebra sky disc are not uncommon. Its spectacular design has amazed both the experts and the public, but that’s it it also raised concerns that it might be a fake.
“The problem here is that it’s a unique event,” said Alison Sheridan, former president of the Prehistoric Society, who 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 record, noted that her black market background amplifies these uncertainties.
“The Nebra disc, due to the circumstances of the discovery,” he said, “belongs to those archaeological finds that can be debated forever until a very accurate absolute dating method can be found for metals.”
However, there is now strong consensus that the Nebra sky disc is an ancient authentic artifact.
“It’s original. It’s not a fake,” Dr. Krause said of the record. “What you can make of it is a very interesting scientific discussion showing the various sides, or objectives, of how to judge this object, both in the Bronze Age and 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 a lot to work with.
“What has been presented here certainly doesn’t throw the Bronze Age argument out of the water,” Dr. Sheridan of the new study.