Following its discovery in 1999, the Nebra Sky Disc spent three years on the black market until authorities seized the relic in a 2002 sting operation.
Shortly thereafter, in 2005, Regensburg University archaeologist Peter Schauer claimed the disc was a modern forgery. His arguments have been dismissed; the corrosion and other lines of evidence are a testimony to this object’s advanced age.
Still, the nature of its recovery raises questions. The two men who found the sky disc claimed they unearthed it at a site near Nebra, Germany — about 111 miles (180 kilometers) southwest of Berlin. Since the disc was considered property of the state, they had no legal right to dig it up or attempt to sell it. But these guys did both. And in 2005, they were found guilty of illegal excavation.
Before the sting, the looters tried to sell the disc as part of a collection that also included two axes, two swords and other artifacts allegedly taken from the same location.
Is It Bronze Age or Iron Age?
Right now, the disc is on display at the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle, Germany. According to the locally based State Office for the Preservation of Monuments and Archaeology’s official website, it “cannot be directly dated” using radiometric dating techniques.
Yet all is not lost. Radiocarbon dating shows that the bark on one of those associated sword hilts is about 3,600 years old. If the sky disc was made at the same time (more or less), then it’s definitely a Bronze Age treasure.
However, a controversial paper, released in September 2020, proposes that the disc’s place of origin may not have been reported accurately. The authors also suspect it could be 1,000 years younger than previously thought, making it an Iron Age relic.
Harald Meller, director of the Halle State Museum, isn’t sold. Neither is Deputy State Archaeologist Alfred Reichenberger, who wrote a press release questioning the 2020 paper. “The colleagues not only ignore the abundance of published research results in recent years, their various arguments are also easily refuted,” declared Reichenberger’s statement.
Looters, a court case and rejected fakery charges. After everything it’s been through — just in the past 21 years or so — one wonders what the future has in store for the mysterious Nebra Sky Disc.