Rock Art Moon Calendars

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Ancient Moon Calendars in Negev Desert Rock Art

Ancient astronomy knowledge helped people to organize their life as evidenced by the invention of prehistoric calendars about 20,000 years ago. Astronomical phenomena are cyclical, allowing us to predict stars’ appearance by observing them over many years. 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 cycle. A shape-changing moon provided convenient monthly marking, and rock art facilitated lunar counting without requiring the observation of moon phases directly, which sometimes is not possible due to bad weather or miscalculation of the moon’s shape. There are several very creative calendar engravings on rock art, and there are also those containing a simple array of dots, usually 14 sometimes 13 indicating half-moon cycle counting. 

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

The average length of the lunar month is 29.5 days. The moon is visible for 28 days and then it disappears for the rest of the cycle. 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 and when all of the legs are counted, by placing a stone on each leg, the cycle count is completed. The square covers the centipede’s last leg, symbolizing 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.  Such influence is presented in Fig.4, which shows a Babylonian cylinder seal, in the center, with the Sumerian Moon-god Sin sitting on a throne. His outstretched hand greets the Moon that shines above. The seated figure in Fig.4, rock art from Negev Desert, is a copy of the Sumerian god Sin as evidenced by, the greeting form, the chair structure, the body posture, the outstretched hand, and they even wear the same shaped hat.  On top of this rock art engraved 14 vertical lines used to count 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.

The Hebrew month’s names even today are of Akkadian/Babylonian origin adapted after the Babylonian exile during the Second Temple period, in the sixth century BC.

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. In this counting scheme, a stone is added for each day, and when the first star fills with stones the count continues to the lower star. The counting proceeds until it reaches the full circle (meaning full moon), which marks the completion of the half-moon cycle. Then a reverse counting begins by removing one stone daily until no stones are left, this marks the moon cycle completion. 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)


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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