Moon Calendars

Rock Art Calendars

Moon Calendars in Negev Desert Rock Art

Every ancient civilization observed the stars and tracked sunrise and sunset, daily changes in the moon, eclipses, moon planetary positions, and the zodiac stars. Astronomical phenomena are cyclical allowing star appearance prediction by observations over many years. This led to calendar creation, 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.  Moon cycle rock art allowed people to count days without the need to observe the moon directly, which sometimes is not possible due to bad weather or miss-calculating the moon shape.

Early Moon Calendars

The Moon is the most recognizable heavenly object, its size, grandeur, and the proximity to earth made him undisputedly the most important god in ancient times. There is evidence that it was tracked 20,000 years ago that played an important role in the creation of crude calendars. In Fig.1 we see a famous 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. 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.

Rock Art Moon Calendars from Negev Desert

Fig. 2 is a Negev rock art resembles a centipede, a creative way of forming a 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 marking the moonless day’s station. The counting principle is similar to the 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

The influence of Sumerian astronomy in Israel appears in many rock art  found in the Negev Desert.  Fig.3 is a Babylonian cylinder seal showing the Moon god Sin sitting on a throne.  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.4 a Negev rock art image shows a seated man on the throne, a copy of Sumerian god Sin. Many similarities between the characters, in the two drawings, show that they are the same. 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 associates the figure with its symbol and suggests that the idea copied from Mesopotamian culture. The vertical lines, fourteen lines, at the top, indicate half Moon cycle count. The count proceeds with putting a stone in both directions for each day that passes.

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


Man always needed to follow the year cycle for agriculture, religion, social events, in order to follow the workings of the invisible forces that governed his life. Time moves forward while changing and affecting all life on earth. Without time knowledge there is no before and no after, everything remains motionless in the same place and a calendar provides the feeling of life rhythm. Many rock art images indicate the tracking of time in the Negev Desert that governed, social and agriculture activity, set ritual and pilgrimage time. It provided a bridge between people and their gods.

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

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