Give or take 1,000 years, just how old is this disk? : ''There is a very unclear situation about the history of finding the disk. This is the big problem we have to solve somehow.''

GERMANY : Archaeologists debate over the rue age of a celestial artifact : The disk is small - just 12 inches in diameter - but it has loomed large in the minds of people across millenniums.

Made of bronze, the artifact was gold-in-laid with an ancient vision of the cosmos by its crafters. Over generations, it was updated with new astronomical insights, until it was buried beneath land that would become the Federal Republic of Germany thousands of years later.

This is the Nebra sky disk, and nothing else like it has been found in European archaeology. Many archaeologists have declared it the oldest known representation of heaven, and to Germans it is a beloved emblem that concerns them with ancient sky watchers.

''The sky disk is a window to look into the minds of these people,'' said Ernst Pernicka, a senior professor at Tubingen University and a director of the Curt-Engelhorn Center for Archaeometry in Mannheim.

Rupert Gebhard, the director of the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection in Munich, said, ''It's a very emotional object.''

But while Dr. Gebhard and Dr. Pernicks both acknowledge the disk's past and present cultural resonance, they do not agree about much more. The two men and others are polarized by a bitter archaeological feud over the object's true age. Many side with Dr. Pernicka in saying that the object is roughly 3,600 years old and comes from the Bronze Age.

But Dr. Gebhard and some colleagues hold firm to their arguments that it must be about  1,000 years younger, saying it shares more with totems of the Iron Age.

The dispute is an ''unhappy situation,'' said Haraid Meller, a professor at Martin Luther University of Halle-Witenberg and the director of the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle, the German institution that is the sky disk's home. He stands by his conclusion that the disk dates back to the Bronze Age.

A paper published late last year by Dr. Pernicka and Dr. Meller offered a strong rebuttal to the case for the Iran Age made by Dr.Gebhard and Rudiger Krause, a professor of prehistory and early European history of Goethe University Frankfurt.

While some believe that this should settle the argument, other archaeologists think the debate will, and should continue.

''This controversial discussion of questions that have not yet been finally clarified will trigger new investigations, especially in Halle, and motivate research to make progress,'' said Wolfgand David, the executive director of the Archaeological Museum at Frankfurt, who has not been involved in either sides's studies. 

The Nebra sky disk is plundered treasure. This is where the problems all begin.

The World Students Society thanks author Becky Ferreira.


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