Case Study: The Nebra sky-disc

A number of spectacular finds elsewhere in Europe have provided extraordinary insights into the character of Bronze Age cosmologies. Chief among these is the Nebra sky-disc (see papers in Meller 2004), found by metal-detectorists in 1999 on the Mittelberg, a hilltop just southwest of Halle in Germany. This bronze disc, some 31cm in diameter and weighing over 2kg, is decorated with sheet-gold depictions of a crescent moon, stars and the sun or full moon. It was deposited around 1600 BC in a hoard alongside a selection of other high-status objects, including two swords with gold hilt-bands, two axes, a chisel and several spiral armlets. The inlaid gold sheeting on the disc is of three different compositions, suggesting that the object as we see it today is the result of several phases of reworking and addition. The sky-disc provides evidence for an interest in the movement of celestial bodies. A cluster of seven stars depicts the Pleiades whose disappearance in March and reappearance in October mark the beginning and end of the agricultural cycle. Two gold arcs, attached to either the edge of the disc, mark the positions of the rising and setting of the sun at the solstices as observed from the Mittelberg. At the bottom of the disc, a ship – the celestial vessel in which the sun is thought to have travelled on its diurnal cycle in Bronze Age mythology – is also depicted in sheet gold.

The Nebra disc ( © LDA Sachsen-Anhalt (Foto: Juraj Lipták)) It is possible that the tin for the bronze disc and the gold for the ornamental inlay came from Britain and Ireland.  The cosmological knowledge represented on the disc was probably not confined to central Europe. Further information on the Nebra Disc can be found here: http://www.lda-lsa.de/en/nebra_sky_disc/


Return to Section 5.4.2 Cosmology