By Andrew Curry

BERLIN--For something so small, the "sky disk" has made quite an impact here. Not even a foot across, the 5-pound bronze disk is embossed in gold leaf with intricate images of the sun, moon, and 32 stars. In the plate's center is a representation of the star cluster Pleiades, which appears in the sky around the autumnal equinox and signaled the arrival of harvest season.

What's most amazing is its age. More than 3,500 years old, the sky disk may well be the most important Bronze Age find in decades. Treasure hunters found it first in 2000 near the eastern German town of Nebra; police in Switzerland had to use an elaborate sting operation to get it safely into the hands of archaeologists. Its recovery was front-page news, and the find inspired headlines like "Culture of the Star Wizards" from the weekly Der Spiegel. "It's an absolutely key find--this is the first accurate picture of the cosmos in human history," says Harald Meller, head of the Halle Institute for Archaeological Research, where the object is being studied. "It's astonishing to people that this was found in Central Europe and not Egypt or Mesopotamia."

Nebra's sky disk isn't the only artifact that has people here buzzing. When Berlin's Museum for Pre- and Early History reopens fully next spring, its centerpiece will be an elaborately decorated gold "hat," 29 inches tall and made out of over a pound of thinly beaten gold. Museum director Wilfried Menghin says that the object, dating from around 1000 B.C. and acquired recently from a private collection, was worn by Bronze Age astronomer-priests and that the decorations are actually an extremely complex solar-lunar conversion calendar. Many scholars are skeptical: The artifact is almost unique, they say, and it's impossible to prove the theory conclusively. What's more, while experts suspect it's from the Nuremberg area, no one really knows its origins. But if true, the achievement would beat the Greek discovery of a similar mathematical system by more than five centuries. . . .