Rock Art Moon Calendars

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Ancient Moon Calendars in Negev Desert Rock Art

Deciphering rock art from Israel, israelrockart.com.

Ancient astronomy knowledge helped people to organize their life as evidenced by the invention of prehistoric calendars about 20,000 years ago.  The knowledge of a calendar provided people with the tools they needed to manage their social and agricultural lives. The rock art interpretation presented here validates the early adoption of lunar calendars in the Negev Desert Israel.

A lunar calendar is based on the moon phases and Rock art facilitates lunar counting without requiring the direct observation of moon phases, which may not be possible due to bad weather or an incorrect calculation of the moon’s shape. Some rock art engravings incorporate creative calendars, and others contain a simple array of dots, usually 14 or 13, signifying a count of half-moon cycles. 

Early Moon Calendars

The Moon is the most recognizable heavenly object in the night sky. Its size and grandeur and proximity to earth made him undisputedly the most important god in ancient times. From astronomical research, we know that moon tracking played an important role in the creation of crude calendars in many civilizations.

Fig.1 The Horse and Deer, Lascaux, France.

In Fig.1 we see a famous example of ancient lunar calendars; from the Lascaux Caves dated 15,000 BC. The twenty-eight dots, painted under the pregnant four-legged animal, indicate a count of a lunar cycle. The animal pregnancy symbolizes renewal, the same quality inherent in the moon cycle. On the right side under the deer, there is a square with thirteen dots, representing the number of crescent moon nights for half the moon cycle. The count proceeds in both directions forming twenty-six days, the number of days the Moon appears in the sky. The square is a “rest station” that marks the moonless days.

Rock Art Moon Calendars from Negev Desert

In a lunar month, the moon is visible for 28 days and then it disappears for the rest of the cycle, The average length of the lunar month is 29.5 days. The rock art from Negev Desert, Fig. 2, resembles a centipede that forms a creative lunar calendar with moonless and visible days. The moon cycle counting principle is similar to the Lascaux Cave deer presented in Fig1. This imaginative centipede has twenty-eight legs with a square at the end. In a lunar cycle, each leg represents a day. When all of the legs have been counted, it marks the cycle completion. The square that covers the last leg of the centipede, symbolizes the moon’s disappearance at the end of the cycle.

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Fig.2. The centipede calendar with 28 legs depicting moon calendar, Negev Desert Rock Art

Sin Moon Calendar, Negev Desert

Sumerian knowledge spread over the Fertile Crescent region and neighboring kingdoms adopted their astronomical observations and utilized them in their calendars.  A cylinder seal, Fig.4shows the Sumerian moon-god Sin, the center figure, seated on a throne. His outstretched hand greets the Moon that shines above. The seated figure in the rock art in Fig.4 is a copy of the Sumerian god Sin. This is evident from the greeting form, the chair structure, the posture, and the outstretched hand. They even wear the same hat.   The 14 engraved vertical lines, on top, counts the moon cycle. The cycle count proceeds by placing stone for each day passed, in both directions, which marks the passage of the full moon cycle.

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Fig.4 Moon calendar, Negev Desert. The figure in the center shows a typical pose for Sin, the Sumerian Moon-god.

Star Moon Calendar, Negev Desert

Fig.5 shows an example of a Negev Desert rock art interpreted as a moon calendar. The two star-like engravings with 7 rays each count the moon days, similar to Venus Calendar  The counting begins from the left star, under the engraved sliver moon shown above. A stone is added to the first star each day and when it fills the count continues to the lower star. Counting proceeds until it reaches the ray with a full moon, which marks the end of the half-moon cycle. Then a reverse counting begins by removing one stone daily until no stones remain, marking the end of the moon cycle. The four lines at the bottom count the weeks, four weeks of seven days each, which indicates the current week in the lunar cycle. 

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Fig.5 Moon cycle counting calendar Negev Desert Rock Art ( photo Razy Yahel)

Conclusion

Lunar calendars gave the people a sense of life rhythm coordinating their spiritual, social, and pilgrimage times which connected them with their gods. The calendars synchronized society and provided them with essential information regarding the seasons.

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

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