Skip to comments.Celestial Bronze Age disc recovered
Posted on 10/04/2002 2:27:44 AM PDT by SteveH
Oct. 4, 2002
Celestial Bronze Age disc recovered
Sensational archaeological find from eastern Germany returned to safety after three years
by Heidi Sylvester
Journalists last week received their first opportunity to inspect the site where an Early Bronze Age disc with gold foil ornaments - perhaps the oldest cosmological picture ever found - was abruptly ripped from the earth three years ago by local looters.
The archaeological sensation was unearthed in a forest near the village of Nebra in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt. The site was located after one of a band of shady treasure hunters confessed where the artifacts had been unearthed. Seven persons are currently involved in a court case surrounding the illegal excavation and selling of treasures that belong to the eastern state.
The disc is around 30 centimeters in diameter and weighs approximately 2 kilograms. It is thought to be around 3,600 years old. On the face of the disc is a strikingly familiar representation in gold of the moon's phases, the stars and the constellation of the Pleiades along with a curved object which could be the depiction of a celestial bark of the sun, such as that which figured prominently in Egypt's ritual art.
Equipped with a metal detector and basic household tools, the two local looters stumbled upon one of the greatest archaeological finds this century. The disc shows that northern Europeans, probably Celts, made a science of astronomy at roughly the same time as the Stonehenge astronomical cult site was built in Britain.
The find gives us a whole new puzzle to figure out. It depicts a journey through the heavenly bodies, examples of which are well known in ancient Egypt but not in the middle of Europe and not at this time, said Harald Meller, an archaeologist who was mostly responsible for the recovery of the treasure. A number of other bronze objects were also among the booty dug out by the men who are now in court.
The Bronze Age artifacts received considerable damage during their crude plunder. In unearthing the archaeological site, the thieves hit the side of the disc with a hammer, causing the outer rim to splinter. With the next blow, a star shot out from its astronomical position and in their hurry to secure their booty, the thieves managed to chip a large part from the main astronomical object.
The retrieval of the disc is the stuff of which first-class detective stories are made. It was offered under dubious circumstances, first to the Berlin Museum for Pre-History and later to a Munich museum. Since the illegal nature of the goods was clear to professionals, a sale was never transacted.
When rumors emerged that the whole treasure was about to be offered on the international underground market, Meller with the help of Saxony-Anhalt state officials stepped in, taking measures to rescue the collection. The authorities succeeded in contacting the illegal owners and arranged a meeting with them to purchase the objects. During the bogus sales meeting late last February, Swiss police swooped in, taking the finders into custody.
The disc is now safely stored in the city of Halle. Authorized archaeologists have been busy excavating the site near Nebra since Aug. 20, and have already unearthed more than 100 treasures. Once the excavation of the site has been completed, a visitor's center will be established near the area. The forest where the site is located is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Europe.
When I was a kid, the Pleiades stood out fairly uniquely in the night sky and were not difficult to find. This was for a couple of reasons. First, they were a tight cluster of relatively bright stars instead of just a constellation pattern, and that seemed to be relatively unique in the northern hemisphere. Second, I was young at the time and using HA Rey's very popular book Find the Constellations. When younger, the eye works better. I recall being able to see and use for recognition individual star colors.
As one ages I believe it's significantly more difficult recognize the stars on a casual basis. Speaking for myself only, I am probably far past the median age of the ancients.
This bronze disc consequently shows the oldest cosmological picture known so far. It is older than the Egyptian pictures of the firmament that are known from Pharaonic graves. The disc of stars will provide fundamental insights into early European intellectual history. This will no doubt, cause quite a furor in the minds of intellectuals everywhere.
The well-known construction of cult monuments along astronomical structures, like Stonehenge, and the Later Bronze Age iconography the sun ship, sun chariot, and other symbols for the stars and the moon now gain further significance. Stay tuned.
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