Ibex role in Rock Art

Ibex role in rock art,

Ibex role in Rock Art

Deciphering rock art from Israel, israelrockart.com.

Throughout Near Eastern cultures, we find the ibex in a variety of forms: in rock art, paintings, pottery, cylinder seals, and Kuduru (border stones). The endurance of horned animals in ancient art has spread across cultures, mythologies and its glory sustained over time. A major celebrity in the world of rock art, the enigmatic symbol is also found throughout the Negev Desert. The decoding of the ibex image represents a challenge, however, the reward of its decoding will help to unravel the meaning of many rock art scenes.

rock art research news. ibex with the sun rock art from negev desert israel
Fig. 1 Ibex rock art  from Negev Desert rock art

Early texts and engraved rock art suggest that the ibex is clearly associated with fertility, and the Ibex symbol represents the Fertility god. The following is a summary of the ibex’s role in the Near East art that proves its consistent association with fertility.

Early Ibex Appearance

During the Chalcolithic period 5500 BC, the Capricorn constellation, which is the inspiration for the ibex figure, marked the beginning of Autumn when the New Year festival called Atiku took place. This most significant celebration occurred during harvest time when the gods granted abundance. Potteries from the Central Plateau of Iran and Sumer display the Ibex motif surrounded by dots (Fig. 2). This unusual combination of symbols, the Ibex as Capricorn with the stars marks the arrival of the New Year. The tree of life in the center represents fertility.

ibex with fertilty
Fig.2 Pottery ibex with fertility symbols. (Haghighat A. 2010)

The Ibex in Sumer

Sumerian cylinder seals, first used around 4000 BC, sealed official documents that carried with them a resolution with administrative power. These seals showed dramatic scenes, usually depicting a cosmic struggle that displayed the power to uphold the existing order.

Fig. 3Enki with flowing streams and the young virile Ibex.

Fig.3 shows a Sumerian cylinder seal depicting Enki (Ea in Acadian), the Sumerian god of life and replenishment. His symbol consists of a horned animal, usually an ibex or mountain goat, together with a fish or bird. The bird represents his control of the heavens, the fish represents the underworld, and the ibex represents the earth. From above and below, Enki looks at the fertilized fields, farms, flocks, and herds of animals. He is known as the “Lord of the Earth” and his vessel is called the “Ibex of the Apsu”

The Ibex in Canaan

Archaeological findings attest to the ibex’s role in Canaan as a symbol of fertility and renewal. In the Canaanite pantheon, the goddess Asherah, identified as the consort of the god El, was the most popular goddess. Often, Ashera is depicted with an ibex, or two, and the tree of life. Fig.4: an ivory relief from Ugarit depicting Ashera feeding crops to two ibexes. She is associated with the tree of life, which symbolizes nourishment and life. There are hundreds of large breasted women figurines often pregnant, found in Israel, associated with the Ashera cult; their number indicates her popularity in many households.

Fig.4 Ivory relief of Ashera from Ugarit, 1200BC

The Ibex in Negev Desert Rock Art

On some Negev rock art, the Orion constellation appears as an elaborate ibex. The left figure, in Fig.5, depicts an ibex with two sets of horns that represent the constellations Orion, Taurus, and Hades. In the image on the right, we see the same ibex projected onto the constellation map. The ibex is composed of three constellations: Orion, Taurus, and Hades, which are located close to each other. Taurus is represented by the horns on the right. The “V” at the base of Taurus is Hade’s constellation. The three stars of Orion’s belt, his signature, appear in the head of the ibex. During the wintertime, these constellations’ appearance signifies the fertile season in the desert.

orion as an ibex rock art
Fig.5 The Ibex as Orion. Left – The Ibex rock art – the same image projected on a constellation map. On the right Orion constellation view with his representation in Egypt

In Egypt, Osiris was associated with the constellation Orion (see Fertility and Rock Art) representing the god of renewal and fertility. In Fig.6, we see Orion’s association with the ibex in rock art. The three dots (Orion belt stars) and the two connected horns from the Taurus and Orion constellations show the engraver’s intent. Sometimes a small V appears in the ibex tail symbolizing the constellation Hades is another indication of this association. Fig.6 shows examples of the ibex rock art representing Orion.

rock art research news. orion as ibex negev desert rock art
Fig.6 The ibex as Orion: 3 dots symbolizing his belt on each image left side, and the V-shaped tail, on each image right side, derived from Hade’s constellation.

The rock art from the Negev Desert, Fig.7 displays clever astronomy that identifies the seasons by observing Bootes and Orion constellations, see Seasons Marker. In wintertime, Bootes disappears and the ibex Orion constellation takes its place announcing the fertile season. It is clear that the desert people understood the ibex’s role. For them, his appearance in the sky announced the arrival of the fertility God.

Rock Art ibex. Bootes constellation indicating seasons rock art Negev Desert
Fig7 The ibex as a fertile season marker, the wintertime, Negev Desert rock art.


The ibex continued role spanning through the Central Plateau of Iran and Sumer, Canaan, and the Negev Desert, from 5000BC to 150AD, shows a decisive association with fertility and renewal. Its role is described in the Sumerian ‘Enki and the World Order’ myth: ‘Wherever Enki goes, be it in the cities, among the shepherds or cow herders, in the field or even in the desert, virility comes forth. This gives abundance to all’.



Haghighat, A.      2010    towards the definition of missing phase in ancient metaphysics.
Dibon-Smith R.  2015    The Ibex as an Iconographic Symbol in the ancient Near East


More deciphering, in a new book Rock Art in Israel, is available online.

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