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Moon Calendars

Rockart Calendars

Moon Calendars in Negev Desert Rock Art

Copyright © 2017 by Yehuda Rotblum

Observing the stars was part of every ancient civilization and it included tracking sunrise and sunset, daily changes in the moon, eclipses, moon planetary positions, and the zodiac stars. Since many astronomical phenomena are cyclical, it was possible to calculate their appearance ahead of time by observations over many years. This led to the creation of a calendar engraved in rocks, or the heavenly clock, which enabled people to manage their social and agricultural lives and plan in advance special events such as the New Year and other religious ceremonies. Such clever recording of the moon cycle allowed people to record the days in a month without the need to observe the moon directly, which sometimes is not possible due to bad weather or miss-calculating the moon shape.

The Moon is the most recognizable heavenly object. Its size, grandeur, and the proximity to man-made him undisputedly the most important god in ancient times. There is evidence that it was tracked 20,000 years ago, long before the agricultural revolution. Moon observation played an important role in the measurement of time and as crude calendars. In (Fig.1) we see an example of an ancient lunar calendar; from the Lascaux Caves dated 15,000 BC.

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

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. Under the deer, there is a square with thirteen dots, representing the number of crescent moon nights until full Moon, and is a shorthand notation for counting the lunar cycle. The count proceeded 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.

In early times, astronomical observation and agriculture fused together and season marking days, the solstice and equinox days,  became the holy days prescribed by the calendar. These days were particularly important since they marked the dispersed tribe’s pilgrimage days for rituals, worship, and social gathering – they are the precursors of our modern holidays. The notion of Shabat, a resting day initiated in Sumer, derived from the moon cycle, which was divided into four 7 days intervals.

Fig. 2 is a Negev rock art that resembles a centipede and is a creative way of counting the lunar calendar. This strange looking creature has twenty-eight legs with a square at the end. The centipede legs mimic the lunar cycle days with the square, which marks the moonless day’s station. The counting principle is similar to Lascaux Cave deer in Fig1. The space between its legs is large enough to place small stones to mark the days passed. By this method, a lunar cycle is completed when all the centipede legs are covered with stones.

Fig.2. The centipede with 28 legs. Negev Desert Rock Art

Fig.3 is a Babylonian cylinder seal showing the Moon god Sin sitting on a throne. Sin is described as an old man full of wisdom who knows the secrets of time. His outstretched hand is greeting the Moon, its symbol, which shines above. Sin’s crescent form is a recurring motif in numerous Sumerian cylinder seals.

                                Fig.3 Moon god Sin (Sumer)            Fig4 Moon cycle calendar, Negev Desert

Fig.4 is a Negev rock art image showing a similar figure as in the Babylon cylinder seal. The seated man on a throne is a copy of Sin god from Sumer. There are many similarities between the characters in the two drawings. For example, the greeting form, the chair structure, the body position with the outstretched hand, they even wear the same shaped hat. A large Moon is engraved under the chair associating the figure with its symbol. The two scenes similarities and the fact that there are no chairs in the desert cultures suggests that this rock art has been copied from Mesopotamian culture. The vertical lines, fourteen lines, at the top indicate the half Moon cycle count. The lines on the right end form a semicircle around a natural rock depression in the shape of a crescent. The count proceeds with putting a stone in both directions for each day that passes.

Man always needed to follow the year cycle for agriculture, religious, social events, and to understand the workings of the invisible forces that governed his life. Time is a force that moves forward while it is changing and affecting our life. Without knowledge of time there is no before and no after, everything remains motionless in the same place. Many rock art images indicate the tracking of time in the Negev Desert. The knowledge of time governed their social and agriculture patterns, it set their ritual time, their pilgrimage time to sacred dwelling places, such as caves, mountain peaks, springs, and trees. It was the bridge between people and their gods.

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

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