One of Germany's most acclaimed archaeological finds -- a 3,600-year-old disc depicting the stars and the planets -- is at the center of a dispute following claims that it is a modern forgery.
According to Germany's museum establishment, the Sky Disc of Nebra is the oldest depiction of the heavens discovered and offers an insight into the Bronze Age mind.
But the authenticity of the disc has been challenged by one of the country's leading archaeologists, Peter Schauer of Regensburg University. He told a court in Halle that the artefact was nothing more than an amateurish forgery.
Schauer said that the ancient-looking green patina on the artefact was not old at all, and had probably been artificially created in a workshop using acid, urine and a blowtorch.
The indentations on the disc's side, meanwhile, were also not made by a Bronze Age tool but were done by machine, he said.
"My colleagues don't want to believe it. But there is little doubt that the disc is a fake," he told the Guardian yesterday.
"It looks very nice. It has the sky and the stars. You can even see the Pleiades. But I'm afraid it's a piece of fantasy," he said.
The disc was allegedly found in 1999 by two amateur metal detectors. They claimed they discovered it in a muddy field close to a prehistoric hill fort near the east German town of Nebra, with two ancient swords and jewelry. The amateur archaeologists then attempted to sell the disc to various German museums for DM1 million (US$673,000).
Last week a judge in Halle called Schauer as an expert witness after he wrote a letter to the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper last November saying that the disc was a fake.
Other experts, though, have poured scorn on this testimony.
"An examination of the patina confirms its ancient origins ... I have no doubt that it does indeed come from the Bronze Age," another professor, Josef Riederer, told the court.
Tests revealed that the disc had come from the Nebra site, yet another expert, Gregor Borg, claimed.