The discovery of the Nebra sky disk

Nebraska Sky DiscThe Nebra sky disk is a bronze disk of around 30 cm diameter and a weight of 2.2 kg, with a blue-green patina and inlaid with gold symbols. These are interpreted generally as a sun or full moon, a lunar crescent, and stars

sky discThe disk, two bronze swords, two hatchets, a chisel, and fragments of spiral bracelets, were discovered by Henry Westphal, and Mario Renner, while treasure hunting with a metal detector in 1999. Archaeological artifacts are the property of the state in Saxony-Anhalt. The hunters were operating without a license, and knew their activities were illegal, and constituted looting. They damaged the disk with their spade, and destroyed parts of the site. The next day, Westphal and Renner sold the entire hoard for 31,000 DM (about 19,000 U.S. dollars at the time) to a dealer in Cologne. The hoard exchanged hands throughout Germany over the next two years, being sold for up to a million DM. By 2001 knowledge of its existence became public. In February 2002 the state archaeologist Harald Meller acquired the disk in a police-led sting operation in Basel from a couple who had put it on the black market for 700,000 DM. The looters were eventually traced back. In a plea bargain, they led police and archaeologists to the discovery site. Archaeologists have opened a dig at the site, and have uncovered evidence that support the looters’ claims. There are traces of bronze artifacts in the ground, and the earth at the site matches earth samples found clinging to the artifacts. The disk, and its accompanying finds, are now in Halle at the State Museum of Prehistory.

The two looters received a four months, and a ten months, sentence from a Naumburg court in September 2003. They went into appeal, but the appeal court raised their sentence to six, and twelve months.

The discovery site is a prehistoric enclosure encircling the top of a 252 metres (827 ft) elevation in the Ziegelroda Forest, known as Mittelberg (“central hill”), some 60 km west of Leipzig. The surrounding area is known to have been settled in the Neolithic, and Ziegelroda Forest contains around 1,000 barrows. The enclosure is oriented in such a way that the sun seems to set every solstice behind the Brocken, the highest peak of the Harz mountains, some 80 km to the north-west. The treasure hunters claimed the artifacts were discovered within a pit inside the bank-and-ditch enclosure. Edited from Nebra sky disk

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