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26 December 2004
Earliest depiction of a rainbow found?

An ancient bronze disc may show the world's earliest known depiction of a rainbow, according to a report published in the new issue of British Archaeology magazine. If the rainbow interpretation proves to be correct, the rare image also would be the only known representation of a rainbow from prehistoric Europe.
     The round bronze object, called the Sky Disc, was excavated in 1999 at Nebra in central Germany. It was said to have been found at an ancient astronomical observatory site, similar to Stonehenge. While the disc, as most metal objects, cannot be accurately dated, its style and content suggest the Bronze Age. Also, it was said to have been found with two metal-hilted swords that have been dated to 1,600 BCE, which experts believe is the likely date of the disc.
     According to some experts, the bronze disc with gold appliqués shows the oldest concrete representation of the cosmos to date worldwide. The seven gold dots on it could be the Pleiades, a cluster of stars in the constellation Taurus. The scientists interpret the arc shape to be an Egyptian sun ship that, in myth, pulled the stars around the heavens.
     The new rainbow theory, which runs counter to the German opinion, developed almost as serendipitously as a rainbow appearing between clouds. Howard Davies, a Cardiff chartered surveyor, saw the disc on television and contemplated it as he walked home in the afternoon from a pub. He looked up at the sky and it suddenly dawned on him that the Sky Disc did not show the Pleiades, but instead depicted stars visible during the day. He suggested that everyone was viewing the disc upside down.
     British Archaeology flipped the disc around so that the boat-shaped arc faced downward, and ran the photo in a recent issue with an invitation for readers to send in their views. A number of readers and the magazine's editor, archaeologist and author Mike Pitts, all agreed that the arc was a rainbow. "It actually does have parallel lines running down the length of the arcs .I defy anyone to say that our rainbow theory is any less accurate than the prior theories," said Pitts.
     Pitts, who also is an expert on megalithic monuments, researched early rainbows in history and art, and found surprisingly few. He said some petroglyphs contain arc-shaped images. Even Stonehenge has groupings of three stones that form arc shapes, but it is unclear whether these are meant to be rainbows. Pitts said rainbows need not always be such positive symbols, and it is unclear what meaning the rainbow might have had for the proposed Sky Disc myth. What is clear to Pitts is that the image probably is not a boat.

Source: Discovery Channel (21 December 2004)

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