Rock Art Moon Calendars
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 the prediction of star appearance by observations over many years. The knowledge of a calendar enabled people 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. The shape-changing moon provided a convenient monthly marking and rock art allowed registration of a lunar count without the need to observe the moon phase directly, which sometimes is not possible due to bad weather or miss-calculating the moon shape. Some rock art shows very creative calendar engravings and others are just an arrangement of simple dots, usually, 14 sometimes only 13, indicating a half-moon cycle count.
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.
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 interpretation from Negev Desert, Fig. 2, resembles a centipede that forms a lunar calendar with visible and moonless days. The moon cycle counting principle is similar to the Lascaux Cave deer presented in Fig1. This imaginative creature has twenty-eight legs with a square at the end. Each leg corresponds to a day in a cycle and when they are all counted, by placing a stone on each centipede leg, a lunar cycle count is completed. The square symbolically covers the centipede’s last leg, marks the moonless days, a hint of the moon’s disappearance at the cycle end.
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 full moon cycle.
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.
A lunar calendar adaptation provided the people a feeling of life rhythm coordinating their spiritual, social, and pilgrimage times that connected people with their gods. It synchronized society and provided them with essential information to follow the seasons.
More deciphering, in a new book Rock Art in Israel, available online.
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