The Nebra Sky Disc

By Bernie Bell

The publicity for the British Museum exhibition  ‘The World of Stonehenge’  has reminded me of ramblings which I sent to a patient archaeologist some years ago about a non-Orcadian artefact which features in the exhibition – the Nebra Sky Disc. As grist to the mill of publicity for the exhibition – here they are…..

“The Nebra sky disc?  Some years ago I saw a television programme about it.  We then found a very good image of it on the Inter-net, and that has been framed and hanging in our scullery for some years.  Why the scullery?  It just looks best there!  I was totally captivated by it, still am, and never tire of looking at it.  Thank you for sending me your article as it gives more, and better, information than the television programme did ( not surprisingly!). 

I’ll tell you how I ‘saw’ it when I saw the programme about it, and when I look at it.  I don’t know if this will make any sense to you or not as I’m afraid, yet again, it’s just how I ‘see’ it……………..

I immediately saw how it relates to the sun and moon.  Often, when folk see a complete disc, they presume it represents the sun, and when they see a crescent, they presume it represents the moon.  To me, on the Sky Disc it could be either, depends on which is being eclipsed at the time.  So there’s the sun, and the moon, or both, being inter-change-able, depending on the time.  And stars. The television programme mentioned the Pleiades but I wasn’t convinced as, well, they don’t look like the Pleiades!  Stars, definitely, but which constellation?  I don’t know enough about astronomy to know. 

(PS – I’ll interject here an email sent to a friend more recently, since Antonia Thomas found the ‘Rosette’ carving at the Ness of Brodgar…

If you look at the cluster of stars in the top, right – said to be the Pleiades – they have the same form as what archaeologists call ‘Rosette’ carvings.  There are some really good examples at Ormaig

And, one was found at the Ness of Brodgar….

We have a stone – found on an Orkney beach – with limpet scars, which also take that form…

Were the ancient folk linking what they saw around them in nature, to the stars?  Or – just liked the shapes as decoration?

Hmmmmmm – think on…..”)

Back to the original email….

“What struck me at the time was that I could almost ‘see’ the lines making the angles.  In your article, you have a picture with the lines drawn on it, and those are the lines I’ve always seen in relation to the sky disc. They’re just there.  When I look at it I can see how the lines cross the centre, and ‘clip’ the edges of the ‘sun’ and ‘moon’.  This may be because I have a natural ‘eye’ for symmetry and balance.  For example, I mowed the spiral and paths in the garden without measuring or gauging at all. I looked at what I had to work with and went for it.  It worked, too. 

It amuses Mike as, if something is just a little bit ‘off’, it bugs me, and I have to line it up properly.  Maybe that’s why I instinctively can ‘see’ these lines.  They’re just there, so I can see them.  Anyway, that’s what I’ve always seen with the Sky Disc – the lines, clipping the moon and sun.  And the two curving pieces at the sides – though one of them is missing – the lines also clip the edges of these, perfectly. 

The next bit is maybe more fanciful.  I see the bottom shape as being a boat, in which to sail through the stars!  I know, it’s seen as a boat anyway, and there is lots of rock art featuring boats, but I always saw it as a boat, in which to sail through the stars.  I like that idea – so I’m sticking to it!

The other thing I noticed was the little holes all the way round.  Now, again, this is pure ‘from Bernie’s brain’ stuff…………I see the disc as being sown onto a large piece of hide, and suspended from a large, rectangular frame, at the place where it was found on the Mittelberg.  It was two things – a teaching aid, and a piece of ‘equipment’ as part of the ceremonies connected with the observance of what could be …observed, from where it was placed.  What I mean is….the disc was crafted with great care to show what could be seen from where it was eventually placed – what could be observed in the skies – and was used as part of those observances.  It also was there to help to pass on this knowledge, the knowledge of what could be observed, and when, in relation to the passing of the sun, the moon, and the stars.  Another teaching aid. 

This was what went through my head when I saw the television programme, at the time.  I could ‘see’, the disc, being held, level, and the observances being made, along the lines of the disc.  I didn’t explain that very well.  It was held, then, you could look along the disc, and line up what was on the disc with what was happening in the skies.  It could then be returned to its frame and used to teach others to be able to use it properly when the time was right.

Now, admittedly, I hold my hands up, completely, to this all being simply what was in my head about it – what I could ‘see’.  Tho’ what you say in your article does support some of this, which I’m pleased to see!  I accept though, that this is just what I saw, and what I see, when I look at the Disc.

I like it, a lot.  As you can tell, as it’s on our scullery wall. That’s another thing though, Euan.  I only put on our walls, things which we can look at, again and again without tiring of them, whether what would be called ‘art’ or just images which we like.  But we have to be able to look at them again and again, and we can do that with the Sky Disc.  I never tire of it, and it’s been there for years, and will continue to be so.  When it fades ( it’s only a computer print-out), I’ll just replenish it.  You could say as the old folk did, when they re-furbished the Sky Disc a bit.

I really don’t know what you’ll make of all that, Euan.  All I can say in my defence, is…..Seers, are Seers, whether in the Neolithic, Bronze Age, …..right through to today, and beyond.  If they could see these things, why shouldn’t we?  Except that we let today’s clutter get in the way.

The bit in your article gave me a lot more information, as the television programme was quite superficial.  I think, in fact, it was about art theft and the theft of ancient artefacts, and the Nebra Sky Disc, was just a small part of that.  It meant that I got to see it though, and I was immediately captivated by it.  A wonderful thing, among so many wonderful things produced by the ancient folk.”

And here’s the article I mentioned…… by Dr Euan MacKie  a wonderful, learned man who I should imagine would have been delighted to see this exhibition of wonderful things produced by the ancient folk being brought together ……


Link: The Nebra Sky Disc — Mysterious Astronomical Device

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7 replies »

    • Thanks Eamonn – this adds to the weave…

      I don’t know why they were said to resemble The Pleiades, as….they don’t! Maybe people seeing what they want to see.

      Do you have any ideas about what the cluster on the Sky Disc represents? Could be stars? Could be something else? One thing’s for sure – that image was used quite a lot by the ancients.

      Aaaaand, you know how the ancient folk used to use little nobbles of clay to make decorations on their pots? I was wondering have any pieces of pot been found with nobbles on in the form of a ‘rosette’? That could mean that they were placing the stars, on their pots, which would be …..groovy.
      Maybe someone could make one – maybe our own Harray Potter?

      • There’s nothing else visible with the naked eyes that fits, maybe at a long stretch Praesepe, the Beehive in Cancer.

  1. Euan also discussed the Nebra Disc and the Wiltshire Lozenge in ‘The Prehistoric Solar Calendar: and Out-of-Fashion Idea Revisited with New Evidence’, in Time: Mind, J. Archeol. Conscious Culture 2(1), 9-46 (2009). He was kind enough to send me a copy when I was writing “The Stones and the Stars” (Springer, 2013), and to give me permission to reproduce his diagrams, directly comparing the two, analysing their astronomical significance, and relating the similarity of the patterns to the similarity in longitude of the two sites. I’ve tried to attach them here, but it doesn’t seem to be possible.

    I no longer have access to much of this material, so many thanks for the link to the paper you’ve cited. Cheers, Duncan.

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