Archaeologists have revived the debate over whether a spectacular Bronze Age disc from
Germany is one of the earliest known calendars.
The Nebra disc is emblazoned with symbols of the Sun, Moon and stars and said by some to be 3,600 years old.
Writing in the journal Antiquity, a team casts doubt on the idea the disc was used by ancient astronomers as a precision tool for observing the sky.
They instead argue that the disc was used for shamanistic rituals.
But other archaeologists who have studied the Himmelsscheibe von Nebra (Nebra sky disc) point to features which, they say, helped Bronze Age people to track four key dates during the year.
The Nebra disc is considered one of the most sensational – and controversial – discoveries in archaeology in the past 10 years.
I remember the BBC Horizon documentary about it and the suspicions about its authenticity.
In 1999 three men came combing through this forest with metal detectors. After several hours they found themselves in a small clearing near a hilltop. Suddenly their detectors came alive. With a pickaxe they tore in to the earth. And after a brief struggle the earth gave up a treasure it had kept safe for over three thousand years. What these robbers didn’t realise was that they may have dug up one of the most significant archaeological finds of the century. For they had found an object that would change how we think about one of the most important times in all human history, the Bronze Age.
…so Dr Heinrich Wunderlich, the Chief Scientist of the museum was called in to determine the authenticity of the Nebra Disc. His laboratory is the first port of call when Bronze Age artefacts are found. He suspected verification would depend on one thing alone, corrosion. Corrosion occurs when metal comes in to contact with oxygen from the air. The disc certainly looked corroded. The green layer of corrosion had formed on its surface. But Dr Wunderlich knew that that didn’t mean the disc was genuine.