The Nebra Sky Disc comes to Assen

The Nebra Sky Disc (from Saksen-Anhalt), ca. 1600 BC., bronze and gold, diameter 31 centimetres, copyright Staatsbureau voor erfgoedbeheer en archeologie Saksen-Anhalt. Photo: J. Lipták.

This summer one of the absolute masterpieces of European archaeology is coming to Assen. From 6 August until 18 September the unique Nebra Sky Disc will be on display in the Drents Museum. This first realistic representation of the night sky dates from the Bronze Age and has been on the Unesco World Heritage list since 2013. The disc is part of the collection of the Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte (National Prehistoric Museum) in Halle, Germany, and is only rarely loaned to other museums. The exhibition “The Nebra Sky Disc – discovering the heavens” is a first for the Drents Museum and the first time this rare object has been seen in the Netherlands.

The disc, inlaid with bronze and gold decoration, was found in Nebra, in the German state of Saxen-Anhalt in 1999. The disc dates from around 1750 BC and was buried in the ground as an offering around 1600 BC. The disc shows the first realistic representation of the night sky. The heavens are shown accurately with stars portrayed as radiant points rather than as gods or mythical animals. The disc probably acted as a sort of calendar and shows that people in the Bronze Age already had a good understanding of the heavens. This key object enables us to view the European Bronze Age in a totally new light.

Religious significance

The disc most probably had both a practical and a religious significance. That can be seen from the fact that the object was buried in the ground as an offering. The disc was also altered over the course of time. For example, ‘horizon lines’ were added to show the points of sunrise and sundown at the solstices. Sometime later a boat was added, because at that time people believed  that the sun and the moon were drawn through the sky by a boat. This image can be found on countless rock carvings and bronze articles.
A highlight of European archaeology

The Nebra Sky Disc has been on the Unesco World Heritage list since 2013 and is one of the absolute masterpieces of European archaeology. The piece is very rarely loaned to other museums and it is therefore quite a coup for the Drents Museum that the disc will be on display in Assen for six weeks. Before that, until 17 July, the disc can be seen in the British Museum in London as part of the major exhibition ‘The world of Stonehenge’. 

The Nebra Sky Disc – discovering the heavens

The Assen exhibition – in the Abbey Church of the Drents Museum – takes visitors on a journey from the Netherlands to Nebra, where the disc was found. Along the way they will see finds and learn about customs from the Bronze Age in an attempt to answer the question: Why have people been fascinated about the night sky for thousands of years?

The exhibition in the Drents Museum is a co-operative venture with the Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte in Halle (Germany). 

Translation                 Alun Harvey


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