Nebra Sky Disk Portable Instrument for Syncing Solar and Lunar Calendar with Seasons

Bronze Age Europeans used the sky disk to determine if a thirteen month needed to be added to the year

The Nebra sky disk was found with a hoard of artifacts scientists are still studying to determine their origin and construction.
The Nebra sky disk was found with a hoard of artifacts scientists are still studying to determine their origin and construction.

Space news (ancient astronomy: ancient, advanced astronomical instruments; the Nebra sky disk) – astronomical clock from 3600 BCE Germany, discovered in 2003 

The trail starts in February 2003, when two treasure hunters tried to illegally sell Bronze Age artifacts to an undercover officer posing as an antiquities dealer, in the basement bar of the Hilton Hotel in Basle, Switzerland. Among the items found in the treasure hoard, investigators discovered a damaged 32-cm-wide (12.6-inch) bronze disk, with what appeared to be representations of the Sun, Moon and possibly stars.

Subsequent police investigations discovered the treasure looters found the bronze disk on the top of 252-meter Mittelberg hill in the German state of Sachsen-Anhalt in 1999. The hill at the time was part of a bigger archaeological site under study and is close to the famed Goseck Henge site. 

Archaeologists studying the 2.2 kg bronze disk found the symbols were inlaid with gold leaf and included a possible representation of the seven visible stars of the Pleiades star cluster (Seven Sisters) 3,600 years ago. 

Subsequent analysis found the bronze disk, which was called the Nebra sky disk, appeared to be an advanced astronomical instrument. A 1600 BCE Bronze Age disk Europeans used to determine the winter and summer solstices and other important dates of the year.

Archaeologists believe the Nebra sky disk was developed through four different stages over a 400 year period. Possibly used to accurately predict important events and times during the year, this handheld instrument was probably used by only a select few or one individual. A truly advanced astronomical instrument for the age and culture it was being used, the Nebra sky disk tells us how little we know about the celestial knowledge and skills of ancient people of the region and age.

Archaeologists studying the Nebra sky disk think it was constructed through four different phases, over a four hundred year period.
Archaeologists studying the Nebra sky disk think it was constructed during four different phases, over a four hundred year period.

Recently, a team of German scientists found evidence suggesting the disk was also used to synchronize the solar and lunar calendars people living in the region of Sachsen-Anhalt used during the Bronze Age. 

“This is a clear expansion of what we knew about the meaning and function of the sky disc,” said archaeologist Harald Meller.

The lunar calendar used by Bronze Age humans was based upon the phases of the moon, which ancient cultures observed for thousands of years. The lunar calendar is eleven days shorter than the solar calendar because it only takes 354 days for the moon to return to new phase 12 times. 

Ancient cultures around the world during distant times used a lunar calendar to keep track of celestial and yearly events.
Ancient cultures around the world during distant times used a lunar calendar to keep track of celestial and yearly events.

Archaeoastronomers think the Nebra disk was used to determine if a thirteenth month needed to be added to the lunar calendar to keep it in sync with the solar calendar and seasons. Bronze Age farmers used a combination of solar and lunar calendars to determine planting and harvesting times through the year. Ancient astronomers or shaman able to predict these yearly events accurately would have been very valuable to the survival of a tribe. Syncing calendars would need to be done every two or three years in order to make sure the crops were planted and harvested on the right dates.

Mysteries remain

The trail started to twist when archaeologists and archaeoastronomers noted the moon on the Nebra sky disk was too thick to be in a new moon phase. After consulting the Mul-Apin collection of Babylonian scripts from the 6th and 7th century B.C, they determined the alignment of the moon and the Pleiades pictured in the sky map is as it should be if a thirteenth month needed to be added. 


It puzzled scientists how Bronze Age cultures in Europe around 1,600 BCE, knew lunar and solar calendars needed to be synchronized, 1,000 years before the Babylonians? Where did they get the understanding and technology required to accomplish this feat?  

Were the sky disk and the knowledge to use it passed onto specific Bronze Age Europeans

Did they inherit the knowledge and technology to build the Nebra sky disk? 

What do we know?

The Nebra sky disk was a complex, portable astronomical clock used by Bronze Age Europeans to determine important seasonal dates and align solar and lunar calendars essential for determining planting and harvesting times of crops. What other ceremonial and astronomical functions was the sky disk used for?

If archaeoastronomers and archaeologists are right, 3600 years ago Bronze Age humans used the Nebra sky disk to help their society and culture survive the onslaught of nature. It probably also held both a ceremonial and cultural significance to the Bronze Age culture in terms of the best time of the year to trade for specific items and goods

Standing upon the crest of Mittelberg hill in Sachsen-Anhalt region of Germany 3600 years ago, Bronze Age astronomers would have held the disk against the sky to compare the position of the moon and stars of the Pleiades, to their positions as pictured in the face of the Nebra sky disk. 

If the positions matched, the astronomer would know it was time to add a thirteenth month to the lunar calendar. It’s possible that after generations of use, the knowledge of how it was devised was lost. The use of the Nebra sky disk doesn’t require knowledge of its engineering and design. In the end, it might have just been a ceremonial or cult object of worship, once the knowledge of its use was lost.

How and why the sky disk came to be buried upon Mittelberg hill in Sachsen-Anhalt Germany is an interesting question? Was it buried and then somehow forgotten? 

Archaeologists do know that when the Nebra sky disk was buried, it had thirty-nine or forty holes punched out along the perimeter of its face. They also know the gold and tin used in the metallurgy of the bronze was from the river Carnon in Cornwall. A portable device of such construction and importance would have been very valuable to its owner. The owner carried a portable Stonehenge in their pocket, one of the most important and monumental ancient astronomical constructions of its age. With this astronomical device in your pocket and the knowledge how to use it, a traveler could go places and be valuable to any society. 

Not all archaeologists agree the Nebra sky disk was used for astronomical measurements of the Sun, the moon, and stars pictured on its face. Instead, they point out the features pictured on the disk tend to be inexact and were more likely used in shamanic rituals.

Perhaps one day, archaeologists will discover additional artifacts that will shed more light on the mysteries surrounding the Nebra sky disk. Until that day arrives, the oldest known example of an astronomical clock sits awaiting additional confirmation of its uses and importance to ancient Europeans.

Learn more about the Nebra sky disk here.

Learn more about Stonehenge here.

Discover the oldest known solar observatory in the world, Goseck Henge here.

Learn about the Mul-Apin collection of Babylonian scripts from the 6th and 7th century B.C here.

Learn what astronomers have discovered about young, newborn stars.

Read about the ocean of liquid water beneath the icy shell of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

Learn more about what astronomers have discovered about the evolution and growth of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Thousands of Years Ago Ancient Peruvians Used 13 Towers Spread Along the Horizon to Mark the Rising and Setting of the Sun Through the Year

The rise of the sun between Tower 1 and Cerro Mucho Malo at the June solstice, 2003, viewed from the western solar observaotry. The sunrise positionInserting image... at the solstice has shifted to the right approximately 0.3° from year 300 BC.  Credit: Ivan Ghezzi
The rise of the sun between Tower 1 and Cerro Mucho Malo at the June solstice, 2003, viewed from the western solar observatory. The sunrise positionInserting image… at the solstice has shifted to the right approximately 0.3° from year 300 BC.
Credit: Ivan Ghezzi

Observations of the number of days between the rising and setting of the sun from tower to tower allowed ancient astronomers to create a solar calendar  

Chanquillo is considered the oldest solar observatory so far discovered in the Americas
Chanquillo is considered the oldest solar observatory so far discovered in the Americas

Ancient space astronomy – 

2,300 years ago (fourth century B.C.) ancient Peruvian astronomers living along the coast near the Casma-Sechin Oasis built a solar observatory used to mark the rising and setting of the sun. Called the Chankillo archaeological site, it consists of 13 towers spanning 980 feet (300 meters) north to south along a low rising horizon, which form an ancient observatory archaeoastronomers believe was used to track the rising and falling Sun. By timing the days it took the sun to travel between towers, the solar year could be broken into periods, scientists believe, forming a sort of solar calendar used for ceremonial and cultural purposes.  

Archaeologists believe ceremonies and cultural events were held in buildings close to this ancient solar observatory. They found pottery, shells and stone carvings at the end of the 131-ft corridor in the building west of the towers, possibly left by commoners participating in solar observing ceremonies and cultural events. They also found a pair of inset staircases leading upward to each tower summit, suggesting the area was well traveled. 

Chankillo is arguably the oldest solar calendar that can be identified as such with confidence within the Americas,” said lead study author Ivan Ghezzi from Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru. 

“Many indigenous American sites have been found to contain one or a few putative solar orientations,” Ghezzi said. “Chankillo, in contrast, provides a complete set of horizon markers and two unique and indisputable observation points.” 

Around 230 meters (750 feet) to the west and east of the north and south running line of 13 towers astronomers discovered possible observation points. They also discovered that seen from these positions the 980-foot span of the 13 towers closely matches the position of the rising and falling Sun through the year. 

“For example,” said Professor Ruggles, “If you stood at the western observing point, you would see the Sun coming up in the morning, but where it would appear along the span of towers would depend on the time of the year.” 

“So, on the summer solstice, which is in December in Peru, you would see the Sun just right of the right-most tower; for the winter solstice, in June, you would see the Sun rise to the left of the left-most tower; and in-between, the Sun would move up and down the horizon.” 

“This means ancient Peruvians could have regulated a calendar, he said, “by keeping track of the number of days it took for the Sun to move from tower to tower.” 

Archaeoastronomers have found similar solar observing sites in South America built by the Incan empire between 1100 and 1530 A.D. This ancient observatory predates the Incas by 1700 years and it’s massive in size and sophisticated for its time. It also highlights the importance of observing the Sun in the daily lives and cultural of ancient Peruvians and is a testament to the scientific knowledge and will of ancient Peruvian builders and astronomers.  

“Chankillo was built approximately 1,700 years before the Incas began their expansion,” Ghezzi said. “Now we know these practices are quite a bit older and were highly developed by Chankillo’s time. 

Some archaeologists think more work needs to be done

If archaeologists and archaeoastronomers are correct. Possibly as early as 600 BCE, ancient Peruvian astronomers used the Chankillo site to track the rising and setting of the sun through the solar year. As a calendar to determine moments to hold important ceremonial and cultural events. The oldest solar calendar discovered to this date in South America.

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Earth Mission Discovers Something Unusual

Space news (August 05, 3897)

Archaeoastronomers of the Earth Mission today discovered something unusual under the dry sand of Chile’s Atacama desert. Buried ten to fifteen feet under the hot, dry sand of the Chajnantor plateau of the Chilean Andes at an altitude of 5,000 meters they discovered a human relic from an early age. What appears to be a human made instrument scientists date to about 2014 AD.

Space scientists unearthed a 12-meter concave metal dish, broken off at the base. The origins and design of the artifact are a mystery to space scientists and historians at this point. Records from this period of human history are sketchy at best, so historians are at odds as to the original use of such a weird looking artifact.

Chile’s Atacama desert is a very isolated and unforgiving environment today and we expect it wasn’t much more inviting in the twenty-first century AD. Documents from the time indicate this region was home to a large facility of some type, possible scientific in nature, but it isn’t clear just what they were studying.

Archaeoastronomers indicate ancient records point to humans of this period being intensely interested in the solar system and the study of the stars in the night sky. Even today space scientists indicate the high plateaus of Chile’s Atacama desert are the perfect spot to observe the sky. This leads archaeoastronomers to believe the site was possible the home of an ancient observatory of some kind.

“The true origins, design, and uses of this artifact are at this point a puzzle, but we believe the 12-meter dish was part of a scientific instrument of some type. Humans of the 21st century spent a lot of time and resources studying the solar system and stars. We think this artifact was part of a much larger instrument and facility,” said lead archaeoastronomer of the Earth Mission, William Hurte.

Archaeoastronomers will now try to piece together the puzzle of this strange looking artifact, using the facts they have to go on, and continued the study of the site and surrounding region. The site is difficult to reach and the environment unforgiving and harsher than any we face here on Sintera. Space scientists face dangers from both the natural environment and strange lifeforms the Institute for Scientific Study is planning on sending a team to study at some point.

The questions at this point keep piling up for archaeoastronomers of the Earth Mission, but they have decades to piece together the puzzle.

What do you think?

Tell us what you think? Is this artifact an ancient weapon of some kind? A scientific instrument? Maybe an astronomical device?

Drop us a line here and we’ll post your comments.

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Newgrange Builders Were Sky Watchers

Prehistoric Irish astronomers built sunbeams for the dead

This aerial view of Newgrange gives you an idea of the astronomical knowledge and tomb building skills of the ancient astronomers who built these monument
This aerial view of Newgrange gives you an idea of the astronomical knowledge and tomb building skills of the ancient astronomers who built these monuments

Ancient Astronomy – Archaeoastronomy

Just thirty miles north of Dublin stands Newgrange, one of the great astronomical wonders of the prehistoric world. Poised on a long, low ridge overlooking the narrow Boyne River, ancient farmers over 5,000 years ago built an oddly shaped temple mound more than 260 feet in diameter and 30 feet high. A wall of sparkling white quartz lines the river-facing southern edge of the mound, with an entryway in the middle guarded by a massive, intricately carved stone. This ancient house of the dead is more than a heap of stones gathered by prehistoric farmers to celebrate and remember the dead. It’s also believed to have been a cathedral to the life-giving force embodied in the sun.

The entrance to Newgrange mound
The entrance to Newgrange mound

The entrance leads to a passage sixty-two feet long, lined with forty-three stones, each taller than a man and weighing ten to twelve tons. At the end of the passage lies an intricate structure of massive rocks, some carved with symbolic designs, forming a cross-shaped chamber that rises into a vault over twenty feet above the floor. Set in the floor of each arm of the chamber is a large, flat rock with a shallow indentation carved into it, called a basin stone. It was here over 5,000 years ago bodies of the deceased were placed and once a year a slender beam of sunlight brought intimations of life to the remains of the dead at the exact moment of midwinter sunrise for seventeen minutes.

The woman here is bathed in sunlight from the Winter Solstice at Newgrange
The woman here is bathed in sunlight from the Winter Solstice at Newgrange

Newgrange Astronomers Built Over Thirty Houses of the Dead

Newgrange is the largest and most elaborate of three similar New Stone Age tombs built by ancient Irish farmers near this part of the Boyne River. This house of the dead is also just one of over thirty mounds in the region and predates the building of Stonehenge by over 1,000 years and Egypt’s pyramids by several centuries. A true monument to the astronomical knowledge and tomb building skills of the prehistoric sky watchers of Ireland. Newgrange and other mounds in the region stand as testimony to their desire to understand the mysteries of the universe.

Click on this link to watch a YouTube video called “The Cygnus Enigma”, on the discussion on the astronomical significance of Newgrange.

Documentary on the Cygnus Enigma Part 1

Documentary on the Cygnus Enigma Part 2

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