| 6 March 2005
Ancient sky map or fake?
One of Germany's most acclaimed archaeological finds - a 3,600-year-old disc depicting the stars and the planets - is at the centre of a dispute following claims that it is a modern forgery. According to Germany's museum establishment, the Sky Disc of Nebra is the oldest depiction of the heavens discovered. But the authenticity of the disc has been challenged by one of the country's leading archaeologists, Peter Schauer of Regensburg University. He told a court in Halle that the artefact was nothing more than an amateurish forgery.
Prof Schauer said that the ancient-looking green patina on the artefact was not old at all, and had probably been artificially created in a workshop using acid, urine and a blowtorch. The indentations on the disc's side, meanwhile, were also not made by a Bronze Age tool but were done by machine, he said. "My colleagues don't want to believe it. But there is little doubt that the disc is a fake," he said.
The disc was allegedly found in 1999 by two amateur metal detectors. They claimed that they discovered it in a muddy field close to a prehistoric hill fort near the east German town of Nebra, with two ancient swords and jewellery. The amateur archaeologists then attempted to sell the disc to various German museums for 1million marks. Police in the Swiss city of Basel eventually arrested the pair and they were convicted of handling stolen goods. They are appealing against the sentence, arguing that if the disk is a fake they should not have been convicted in the first place.
Last week a judge in Halle called Prof Schauer as an expert witness after he wrote a letter to the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper last November saying that the disc was a fake. Other experts, though, have poured scorn on the professor's testimony. "An examination of the patina confirms its ancient origins. I have no doubt that it does indeed come from the Bronze Age," another professor, Josef Riederer, told the court.
The case is embarrassing Germany's curatorial establishment, which had hailed the disc as the most sensational archaeological discovery of the last century. The disc, with its gold appliqués, was the oldest concrete representation of the cosmos to date and a key find not only for archaeology but also for astronomy and the history of religion, experts claimed. Thousands of Germans have flocked to an exhibition in Halle to see the disc. However, Prof Schauer said the disc could have been manufactured by shamans from Siberia, and was probably no more than "two or three hundred years old". Asked whether he might be wrong, he replied: "I spent 19 years examining finds from across the ancient and Roman world. I know what I'm talking about."
Source: The Guardian (1 March 2005)
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