The Oldest Depiction of the Universe Was Made in 1600 BCE

Tuesday, 16 June 2015 - 4:07PM
Weird Science
Astronomy
Tuesday, 16 June 2015 - 4:07PM
The Oldest Depiction of the Universe Was Made in 1600 BCE
The Nebra Sky disk is the first astronomically correct depiction of the night sky known to humankind, dated all the way back to 1600 BCE. It was found by illegal treasure hunters in 1999, and was lost to the black market for many years before becoming known to the public. Recently, it was inducted into UNESCO's Memory of the World Register calling it "one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century."

The Oldest Depiction of the Universe Was Made in 1600 BCE

The disk gets its name from its original home in Nebra, Saxony-Anhalt in Germany, where it was forged in the Bronze Age. According to radiocarbon dating of a birchbark particle found on a sword buried with the disk, it was buried between 1600 and 1560 BCE. But this is only the date of the burial, while the disk itself could be much older.

The Oldest Depiction of the Universe Was Made in 1600 BCE

But even if it is *only* 3,600 years old, it is remarkable for being the oldest known concrete depiction of our universe. The design may look fairly primitive, but archaeologists who are familiar with the associated culture, a Bronze Age culture in Central Europe called Unetice, the disk is a veritable map of our night sky that proves the Unetice people had an intelligent conception of astronomy.

The Oldest Depiction of the Universe Was Made in 1600 BCE

A German expert in Bronze Age religions, Miranda Aldhouse Green, put together this labeled map of the presumed meaning behind the symbols, which maps out currently known celestial features like the Andromeda Galaxy and the Orion and Cassiopeia constellations. The large circle to the left is likely the Sun, as the Sun had particular significance in their culture.

"The sun is absolutely central to northern European Bronze Age religion," Green said in a BBC documentary. "There's a clear connection between the sun and life. If the sun disappears then life comes to an end." 

Similarly, the symbol to the right is likely a crescent moon, as the Moon was central to their culture as a symbol of the passage of time. "If you can control time, and if you understand time, then you are a powerful, a powerful human being," said Green.

The arc below the Sun and Moon was added later, and is sometimes interpreted as a rainbow or the Milky Way, but Green thinks the most likely explanation is a Sun Boat, or Solar Barge. A Solar Barge is a mythical representation of the Sun riding in a boat, as that was ancient peoples' explanation for the sun setting.

"We know from Greek writers that the Pleiades were used as an agricultural marker, so that farmers knew when they should do certain agricultural activities," Green said. "So what the Nebra disc does is to tell people not only the right time to [plant and harvest] but it is the blessed time to do it."

Via Business Insider.
Science
Space
Weird Science
Astronomy

Load Comments