Believed to have been crafted around 3,820 years ago, the Nebra Sky disk is considered the earliest known portable navigational system on Earth.
Humankind has looked to the stars since time immemorial trying to understand our purpose on this planet. Humans’ gazing at the night sky raised many important philosophical questions. We have looked to the stars since time immemorial. And countless civilizations believed that the star dictated our fate and future. Evidence of the importance of the night sky, stars, and galaxies is widely documented in numerous ancient star maps like Pedra do Inga and perhaps even the Cochno stone. But one of the most intricate sky maps was found in Germany, and it dates back to 1800 BC, which means it was crafted by our ancient ancestors approximately 3,820 years ago.
The Nebra sky disc
Dubbed the Nebra Sky Disk, the ancient artifact is a bronze disk thirty centimeters in diameter, weighing slightly over two kilograms. The bronze disk is inlaid with gold symbols representing the stars, Sun, and Moon. Among th stars, scientists identified the Pleiades. What makes it one of the most unusual artifacts isn’t just its curious design and symbology but the fact that it is the only known disk-shaped map from that period. Some experts argue that the Nebra Sky disk bears the oldest depiction of the cosmos. And when we look at handheld artifacts, it might be. Scientists say the Nebra Sky Disk is at least 200 years older than similar depictions in Egypt. The bronze disk was discovered in 1999 by treasure hunters exploring Mittelberg Hill near the town of Nebra.
An astronomical clock rather than a map
Since its discovery, the Nebra Sky disk has undergone various studies. And although many people believed the disk was a kind of cosmic map, German researchers discovered it to be a complex astronomical clock rather than a map. Instead, experts believe the bronze disk was a clock used to harmonize the solar and lunar calendars, considered the earliest known portable navigational system. Further, archeologists say that the actual function of the disk was only known to a selected group of people thousands of years ago.
Using the disk
Ancient astronomers would hold the disk against the sky and observe the position of various celestial objects. They used the disk for inserting an intercalary month into the calendar, and they would do this when they would identify the position of the stars as they would appear on the disk. This is believed to have occurred every two to three years. Furthermore, perhaps most intriguing is that these ancient people knew already what ancient Babylonian astronomers would identify a thousand years later. This tells us that whoever crafted this intricate disk knew astronomy. It tells us that long before Babylonian astronomers, people in Europe had advanced knowledge of the stars. It tells us long before history was written, people in Europe tracked the sky. However, what the Nebra Sky Disk was used for exactly remains a question experts have not been able to answer.