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Comets and Rock Art

comet rock art negev desert

Comets in Negev Desert Rock Art

Deciphering Rockart from the Negev Desert
Copyright © 2017 by Yehuda Rotblum
www.israelrockart. com

Introduction

To an earthbound observer, a comet appears as a large star surrounded by bright transparent cloud with a tail that travels through the sky. Comets infrequent appearances in a relatively “known” sky captivated people and their interpretation have been found on rock art, coins, and art. Different cultures describe it as a sparkling star, broom star, long sword, spear, a human head with hair, burning torch and even a horse’s mane being blown by air.

Comet Description and Movement

Comets are icy bodies, made from frozen gases and dust that reminds of dirty snowball. Their eccentric orbit, not circular around the Sun, made them infrequent visitors to earth and from the earliest days until the 16th century, most people thought that they were harbingers of doom, bad omens, catastrophes, and deaths.

Fig. 1 Comet orbit                                          Fig. 2 – Comet components

The Greeks originated the word kometes, which translates to “long-haired star” because of their glowing long tails; they often have two types of luminous tails. A straight one is made of ionized gas (typically bluish) and a curved tail (white to yellowish in color) is made up of tiny particles of dust, pushed away by radiation pressure. The comet tail doesn’t indicate its movement direction – it always pointing away from the Sun and sometimes it appears to defy gravity.  It is important to notice that the comet movement, as seen from earth, can be either toward the tail or its nucleus.

Comets rock art from the world

The comets irregular appearance, once every five years, pushed them to the history sideline. The textual descriptions of comets are few and recording by art is also lacking. There are examples of comets of rock art from the world usually they are deciphered by their classical appearance of a star with a tail, Fig.3.

Fig. 3 Comet from South Africa (Coimbra F.)     Fig. 4 – Comet from India (Hrishikesh J.)

The rock art from India, Fig.4, claims that it is a depiction of Super Nova. I think it fits a description of a comet. In this rock art, we see a man holding very long spear with illumination, above the reindeer horns, which equates to half of the full moon brightness nearby. Comets from Negev Desert, Israel depicted almost the same way as will see next.

Comets in Negev Desert Rock Art, Israel

There are textual testimonies of comets appearance in Israel skies during the Greek/Roman time. According to (Horwowitz W 2018), the Jewish the Maccabean Revolt coincided with Halley’s Comet appearance in 164 BC. In 66AD Halley’s Comet returned, just months before the outbreak of the Jewish war 66-73 AD against Rome. Josephus described it: “And so it was that a star resembling a sword stood over the city (Jerusalem); a comet persisted for a very long time”.

In the Negev Desert, there are numerous comets rock art engravings that shows us how people interpreted them. These are repeated scenes that display a horse rider holding a long spear fighting an invisible enemy. This spear is not a real since it doesn’t have a sharp edge and sometimes it is curved, see Fig.5. The comet depicted with the burning nucleus, on one side, and a sliver of a long tail that gets thinner on the other, sometimes even a second tail can be seen representing a fully developed comet.

comets as spear negev desert rockart

Fig. 5 Rock Art examples: Rider with a spear representing a comet from the Negev Desert. Notice their supposedly sharp edge that resembles a torch and the tail is much thinner. (photos Razy Yahel).

In scene1, the main post picture, the horse is moving to the right and the rider throws the spear to the left, the comet movement direction. The comet nucleus is on the right top (symbol 1) and the two tails (symbol 2 and 3) are pointing to the left. The horsetail is drawn as an integral part of the comet tail. This engraving reveals the artist interpretation of this fully developed comet. The horse hoofs in scene1 and scene3 are wheels, a reminder of Apollo Sun carriage idea dating the rock art to Roman time, in Israel, about 100AD. In scene2 the spear is curved signifying the comet movement as seen from earth curvature. Notice the comet nucleus on the right and the comet movement is toward the tail.

comet collision with moon rock art negev desert

Fig. 6 Rock Art examples: Comet collision with the moon, Negev Desert Rock Art. On the right rock art, the comet second thin tail is visible pointing to the smaller horse.  (photos Razy Yahel)

The spear size illustrated in Fig.6 is unrealistic but it fit the comet sky view that can span up to one-third of the night sky.   Collisions between comets and planets were common in the early Solar System formation: some of the craters on the Moon may have been caused by comets as described literally in Fig.6. In these illustrations, the comet is behind the moon as can be seen from the moon outline that is in front of the spear.

The imaginative horse, pictured in these scenes, metaphorically carries the comet through the sky. The rider, a minor god or demon,  is the spear holder throws the spear, which explains the spear movement and direction.  This astral phenomenon explained by earthly terms that all understood and therefore all accepted it as real and possible.

 

Bibliography

Coimbra F.                The sky on the Rock: Cometary images on Rock Art

Gardner S. 2016     The sun, moon and stars of the southern Levant at Gezer and : Megido:                                       Cultural astronomy in Chalcolithic/Early and Middle Bronze Ages

Horowitz W 2018     Halley’s Comet and Judean Revolts Revisited

Hrishikesh J.              Oldest sky-chart with Supernova record

 

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