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Rock Art Moon Calendars

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Ancient Moon Calendars in Negev Desert Rock Art

Ancient astronomy helped people to organize their life as evidenced by early lunar calendars that appeared 32,000 years ago. Archaeological research confirms that the lunar calendar adapted first throughout the Ancient Near East. 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 changing moon provided a convenient monthly calendar 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,  or half-moon cycle lunar count. Such a simple calendar helped people to manage and coordinate their social, religious, and agricultural lives.

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 the moon tracked 40,000 years ago and played an important role in the creation of crude calendars.

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 interpretation from Negev Desert, Fig. 2, resembles a centipede that forms a lunar calendar count. 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 and when all counted they form a lunar cycle with the square that marks the moonless days symbolically covering the centipede last leg, a hint of the moon disappearance in the lunar cycle end.

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

Sin Moon Calendar, Negev Desert

Fig.3 shows a Babylonian cylinder seal with the Moon-god Sin sitting on a throne.  His outstretched hand greets the Moon that shines above. From this example, we see the influence of Sumerian astronomy in Israel in Negev Desert rock art. 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 that connect the Moon-god to the moon cycle. The cycle count proceeds by placing stone for each day passed, in both directions, which marks the full moon cycle.

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Fig.4 Moon  calendar, Negev Desert                                 Fig.3 The Sumerian Moon god Sin in his chair

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

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 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 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)

Conclusion

Astronomical phenomena are cyclical allowing star appearance prediction by observations over many years. This knowledge led to a calendar creation, which enabled people to manage their social and agricultural lives. Man always needed to follow the yearly cycle for agriculture, religion, social events. A calendar provided a feeling of life rhythm coordinating the ritual and pilgrimage time 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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