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Lecture: The Nebra Disc: Narrator: Listen to part of a lecture in an ancient history class. Professor: So before we move on, any last questions about ancient calendars? Male Student: Uh, yeah, I heard about an ancient disc, some treasure hunters found in Germany. Oh, yes, near Nebra Germany. It was made in the middle Bronze Age about 3,600 years ago. And it's called the Nebra Disk. It looks something like this. Well, that's the general idea. The Nebra disc is bronze with gold and silver overlay, and weighs a couple of kilograms. Female Student: Some claim it's like a scanner. Male Student: Well, that big circle looks like the Sun, and there's a Moon and some little round spots, probably stars, but what's that arc at the bottom? Professor: Oh, some scholars say it may be a rainbow. In European mythology of the Bronze Age. Rainbows are recurring symbols and often represent a bridge that connects Earth and sky. Others see this is a mythical boat, bringing the Sun across the sky, though it hardly resembles ancient boats of central Europe. And besides, cave art in this region shows the Sun as a wagon or chariot moving with wheels, not like a boat. Regardless, the arc seems to have been added only as a symbolic device, emphasizing the fact that the Sun moves across the sky. And as for this disk being used to represent the ancient sky, well, most of those little circles don't match any stars actually seen in the sky, most of them. And then there's the Moon, if we view a crescent Moon from Earth, the tips of a crescent always point away from the Sun, but that's not what the Nebra Disk shows. Even so, none of this should be taken to mean this disk is not an important astronomical instrument. Male Student: Really? Why would anyone claim it is? Professor: Well, you see those seven small circles clustered together? Some scholars argue these do represent a particular group of stars, a cluster called the Pleiades. The Pleiades is actually includes hundreds of stars, though only a handful of, about seven of them are visible without a telescope. But these are easy to identify in the night sky. And some scholars argue that the image of the Pleiades on the Nebra disc, together with the Moon, help ancient people make better use of the lunar calendar. Remember, unlike our solar calendar, a lunar calendar is based on the phases of the Moon. And a twelve month lunar calendar is shorter, about eleven days shorter than a solar calendar. So it quickly gets out of alignment with the annual seasons. Well, one way to fix this, more or less, is to add a thirteenth month from time to time. And scholars speculate that the Nebra disc was used to determine when the lunar calendar should get this extra month. Female Student: Bronze Age people could figure that out just by looking at the disc? Professor: Well, we think they'd hold the Nebra Disk up against the sky, and when they saw in the sky, the Pleiades, and the crescent Moon, not what we call the new Moon, but judging from the apparent thickness of the crescent on a disk, a Moon for five days old, when these celestial features corresponding to the configuration on the disc they were holding, they'd add a month to their calendar. This would have happened about every two to three years. And if this is true, that the Bronze Age astronomers managed to harmonize the solar and lunar calendars, it's pretty amazing. I mean, we have a collection of ancient documents from the Middle East, Babylonian documents written a thousand years after the Bronze Age, and they mentioned adding a thirteenth month. But this Nebra Disk seems to prove that these Bronze Age people already understood this way of reminding their calendars, a thousand years before those ancient Babylonians. Female Student: So it was used as an astronomical device. Professor: Well, very likely. There are some scholars who think so, believe that probably just a few people knew how to use it. And they even speculate that the knowledge about the lunar calendar, shortage of days, how to fix it, etc, was lost along the way. And that in the end, the disc became a completely symbolic object, purely for use in rituals and ceremonies. And all this is supported. It seems to me quite convincingly by some symbols and preparations that were apparently added later on.