World’s Oldest Map Of The Stars Goes On Display

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World’s Oldest Map Of The Stars Goes On Display

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The world’s oldest map of the stars will go on display for the very first time in the UK at the British Museum next year

The Nebra Sky Disc is one of the true treasures of the ancient world. Believed to be at least 3,600 years old, the disc is the oldest surviving depiction of the cosmos that exists anywhere in the world.

The disc will be the highlight of a new major exhibition at the British Museum next year, opening in February.

The 31cm (12-inch) bronze disc features a blue-green patina with inlaid gold symbols thought to represent the sun, moon, stars, the solstices and the constellation of the Pleiades.

It was discovered buried in the ground in 1999 near the town of Nebra in Saxony-Anhalt in the east of Germany and will be loaned to the British Museum from the collection of the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle.

The disc’s display in London will be the first time it has been loaned internationally for 15 years. It will go on show from February 17 till July 17 next year in a special exhibition entitled The World of Stonehenge: the UK’s first exhibition on the history – and mystery – of Stonehenge.

The exhibition will display hundreds of objects brought together from across Britain and Europe to tell the spellbinding story of one of the world’s most famous landmarks.

Also on display in the exhibition will be an extremely rare 3,000-year-old sun pendant, described by the British Museum as the most significant piece of Bronze Age gold ever found in Britain.

The Sun Pendant. Courtesy of the British Museum

One side shows a stylised sun – a rare and hugely significant addition to the art and iconography of Bronze Age Britain.

Solar symbolism is a key element of Bronze Age cosmology and mythology across Europe, but before the discovery of this pendant, it was very rarely seen on objects found in Britain.

It was discovered in May 2018 by metal detectorist and retired engineer Bob Greenaway in Shropshire. It had been cushioned in the peaty soil of the Shropshire Marches for three millennia before the finder, who had been metal detecting for 25 years, came across this find of a lifetime.

He has remarked that “when I found it, my eyes nearly popped out of my head.”

It is only the second-ever object of this type found in Britain: the other – now lost – was discovered near Manchester in 1722 but was last recorded in 1806 before disappearing from sight.

Measuring 3.6cm high and 4.7cm wide, the pendant was brought to the British Museum where it went through the legal Treasure process and was recorded as part of the Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme. It was acquired by the British Museum last year for £250,000.

Neil Wilkin, curator of The world of Stonehenge at the British Museum, says: “The Nebra Sky Disc and the sun pendant are two of the most remarkable surviving objects from Bronze Age Europe.

“Both have only recently been unearthed, literally, after remaining hidden in the ground for over three millennia. “

We’re delighted that they will both be key pieces in our once-in-a-lifetime Stonehenge exhibition at the British Museum.

“While both were found hundreds of miles from Stonehenge, we’ll be using them to shine a light on the vast interconnected world that existed around the ancient monument, spanning Britain, Ireland and mainland Europe.”

The mystical ancient stone circle of Stonehenge

Built 4,500 years ago around the same time as the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, Stonehenge is the world’s most extraordinary ancient stone circle and is one of the most recognized sites on the planet. Yet much about it is still shrouded layers of uncertainty, speculation and folklore.

Tickets will go on sale in December.

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