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Star-Crossed Find Volume 56 Number 1, January/February 2003
by Kristin M. Romey

A ten-inch-wide bronze disk, looted in Germany and seized by police in Switzerland, has led archaeologists to mainland Europe's oldest-known astronomical observatory.

The site near Nebra, 100 miles southwest of Berlin, was looted four years ago by treasure hunters who made off with 3,600-year-old axes, jewelry, and the disc, which features the earliest-known depiction of the night sky. The cache was seized by Swiss police in a sting operation last February, and the looters subsequently led archaeologists to the site.

Recent excavations suggest that the observatory was a wooden structure circled by a ditch. From its location, the sun is seen setting behind the highest mountain of the Harz range during the summer solstice. Artifacts from the site indicate that it was in use for more than a millennium.

The disk, which scholars believe shows the seven-star Pleiades star cluster, along with what may be a "solar boat," thought to carry the sun across the sky, is on display at the State Museum for Prehistory in Halle.

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© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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