Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Nebra Sky Disc

With new archeological discoveries come changes in our perceptions of the past. Our image of the history of civilization is ever-changing, as ancient artifacts provide new insights into the evolution of Man's knowledge of the Universe.
What we once thought of as a brutish, ignorant culture - lacking understanding of the stars in the heavens - existing in Bronze Age Europe (3500-1200 BCE) appears to be quite different since discovery of Nebra Sky disk. This large bronze and gold medallion serves as an astrological chart that denotes among other things both the Summer and Winter solstice and the constellation known as the Pleiades. This would tend to indicate a European culture more advanced than what was thought to exist at that time (circa 1600 BCE).
The story of this object subsequent to its discovery in 1999 has been partly a tale of science and part detective story. What began as a treasure hunt was considered grave robbing by authorities in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. Henry Westphal and Mario Renner were operating without a license when their metal detector led them to several bronze age artifacts buried in the Ziegelgorda Forest.
In addition to the Nebra Sky disk the items included two bronze swords, two hatchets, a chisel and some fragments of spiral bracelets. The significance of the Bronze disk, which has acquired a blue-green patina with age, is found in its inlaid gold symbols. The symbols are thought to depict the Sun, a crescent moon and at least one known star cluster. Two arcs are believed to represent the Summer and Winter Solstice with a third, located at the bottom, interpreted by some as an archaic symbol of a "Sunship."
This well-known symbol of Egyptian Mythology represents the ship used by the sun-god Ra as he traverses the sky from East to West each day. It now reveals an ancient Nordic sun-cult as evidenced in various ceremonial and ornamental objects. A connection between peoples of southern Scandinavia and the civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean is unclear. The science of archeology often opens the door to more inquiry leaving us with ever more questions in search of answers.
After its discovery, an episode of skullduggery began for the disk. Westphal and Renner immediately sold their ill-gotten booty for 31,000 DM to an antiquities dealer in Cologne. Afterward it changed hands several times as it moved about Germany, selling for up to 1 million DM. Existence of the Disk eventually became public knowledge and by February of 2002 authorities, working with state archeologist Harald Meller, were able to acquire the artifact during a sting operation led by police. The object was purchased from a couple in Basel in a black market transaction for 700,000 DM.
Initially Meller was not shown the disk, but instead was given one of the bronze swords to authenticate. After several delays and prolonged moments of silence had added to the suspense for Meller, the mysterious stranger finally produced the object from under his shirt. Adding to the intrigue, it remained covered in a towel until it was slowly unwrapped. The scientist, awed by the apparent age of the disk, was then able to make a cursory examination before consummating the deal. The priceless historical piece now resides in Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte (State Museum for Prehistory)
When the investigative trail led back to the looters they were able to avoid bargain for a reduced sentence by agreeing to show police and archeologists the location of the site where the had been found. They eventually were given sentences of six and twelve months, respectively. In a twist of fate an Appeals Court increased their original four and ten month sentences.
Even so, the mystery surrounding the Sun Disk continued. In an effort to authenticate the disk an analysis of the metal was performed. In a process called x-ray fluorescence, it was determined that the copper had come from primitives mines in Austria, the gold from the river Carnon in Cornwall and the bronze content had also originated in Cornwall. However, since metal cannot be dating by the Radiocarbon dating method used on organic materials, a method of comparative analysis was performed using a piece of birch bark found with the swords. The estimate of 1600 to 1560 BCE was now confirmed.
Yet as these issues are laid to rest there is still much more left to speculation. We continue to wonder about these people now so distant in the mist of time. We can only imagine what it must have been like as they opened their eyes to a new age of knowledge and enlightenment. A new age was dawning, one that was as bright as the Sun's corona itself.
Richard Quindry writes fiction and non-fiction on his website. He can be contacted via email at the email address shown below. He accepts free lance assignments and enjoys researching topics of every sort. He is an avid reader of many other Blogs and likes to share ideas with other writers.
His favorite books include mysteries, science-fiction and biographies. He also enjoys writing poetry, a talent he acquired from his grandfather.
Richard Quindry
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