Make your own Sky Disk

The stars above us have enchanted humans for centuries, and we can find evidence of this in many ancient cultures and civilizations.

Prehistoric man observed the rising and setting of the sun, the changing phases of the moon, and annual events such as solstices. The Neolithic site of Stonehenge was built to align with the rising and setting of the sun in midsummer and midwinter. Ancient Egyptians built pyramids to align to the north as they believed Pharaohs would become stars in the north sky after death. It is thought that the three largest pyramids in Giza all point to the stars of Orion’s Belt.

Most famously of course, is the link between astronomy and Greek and Roman mythology. Many constellations are named after heroes of classical myths such as Hercules and Perseus, who were granted immortality and a place amongst the stars. There are archaeologists and historians who have dedicated their careers to study how past humans have interpreted the sky, this is called Archaeoastronomy.

The Nebra Sky Disc

Nebra Scheibe

Bronze disc

The Nebra Sky Disk is a bronze disk embossed in gold dating to 1600BC. It depicts the sun (or full moon), a crescent moon (or eclipse) and a collection of stars. The cluster of seven stars just above the sun and moon is widely accepted to represent The Pleiades, more commonly known as ‘The Seven Sisters’. The gold arcs on each side of the disk could show the rising and setting of the sun across the horizons at solstice. An additional arc on the bottom is often called a sun boat. The image of a vessel is often used to represent the sun being transported on its journey across the sky. The disk may have been used as an astronomical clock, with the annual celestial events used to determine the best time to plant or harvest crops.

The disk was found near the German town of Nebra in 1999 by metal detectorists without a license, at which point it was damaged during excavation. The disk and a collection of bronze age weapons also discovered on site, entered the black market and was sold on to numerous private collectors. In 2002 the disk was recovered by police and returned to the Saxony-Anhalt State with the rest of the hoard. The disk now belongs to the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle.

Find out more about the Nebra Sky Disk here.

Make your own

A collection of scraft materials resting on a table. These include scissors, green coloured card and glue.

Materials needed

To make your own Sky Disk, you will need:

  • Green card
  • Black paint
  • Paint brushes
  • Scissors
  • A compass or a circular object
  • A pencil or pen
  • Gold paint, gold leaf (and PVA) or gold metallic pen

Step One

First, use a compass or a large round object to trace a circle onto your green card. I used the tea plate that I use for mixing paints on. Carefully cut out using scissors. I gave my circle a wavy edge at the top to show the damage on the disk.

Step Two

Using a pen, pencil or compass point, poke holes around the edge of your disk. In case you want to be as accurate as possible, the original had 39 holes around the perimeter.  Be careful with any sharp points. I used a thick sponge under the card to protect my fingers and table.

Step Three

Bronze objects change colour over a long period of time due to oxidation. This is called patina and is the green colour you see on many artefacts.

To replicate the appearance of patina on the disk, use a small amount of black paint on a dry brush – I found stippling the best method. Pressing the paint down very quickly but gently and letting the green show through the gaps. Leave to dry.

Step Four

When the paint is dry, use a pen or pencil to mark where you will paint the sun, moon and stars.

You could copy the sky disk closely, or you could look up to the sky at night and use the stars you can see above your home as inspiration. The Nebra Sky Disk has 30 stars visible in its current state, including the seven sisters. Use a metallic pen or gold paint to colour the stars.

Step Five

I used gold leaf for the sun, moon and arcs, because of the way I could create a 3D and metallic texture. But you could continue with gold paint if you don’t have any.

Paint your drafted sun and moon with PVA glue and then use a dry and clean paint brush to push fragments of gold leaf onto the sticky areas. Gold leaf is very fragile and can feel very static. Its fiddly but fun! Repeat for the right-hand arc and the sun boat.

Step Six

On the left-hand side, use black paint to outline the arc, so that it reflects the current condition of the Sky Disk. Leave to dry and you are done!

 

 

Competition

Northumberland National Park are currently running an art competition as part of the Northumberland Dark Skies Festival. One of the prizes is free loan of a newly created dark sky resource box for your school. A replica of the Nebra Sky Disk is one of the items included.

For full details on this competition please see here please visit our previous blog here.

Watch our step by step video

Watch as Rose Thompson creates her Nebra Sky Disk.