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Moon Calendars

moon calendar eock art negev desert

Moon Calendars in Negev Desert Rock Art

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. The lunar calendar adapted first throughout the Ancient Near East dates back to prehistoric times. The changing phases of the moon provided a convenient time marker for a calendar. Later 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.

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 in Israel initiated in Sumer, derived from the moon cycle which was divided into four 7 days intervals.

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 40,000 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.

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. The two crosses above the centipede are a later addition and are not connected to the calendar abstraction.

centiped rock art moon calendar negev desert

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. 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. The vertical lines, fourteen lines, at the top, indicate half Moon cycle count. The count proceeds by placing stone for each day passed, in both directions.

moon calendar rock art negev desert

Fig.4 Moon  calendar, Negev Desert                                       Fig.3 Moon god Sin (Sumer)

Fig.5 is an example of moon cycle counting using a star-like counting mechanism with 7 branches, similar to Venus Calendar. The counting begins with the left star the top arm( the new moon sliver above). A stone is added for each day and when the first star filled with stones the count continues to the lower star. Again a stone is added for each day and when the count reaches the full circle (meaning full moon) it marks the completion of half a moon cycle. The stones are then removed for each night that passes until no stones left which mark the completion of the moon cycle. The four lines at the bottom are weeks counter, four weeks of seven days each, that indicates the current week counting until the completion of the 1-month lunar cycle.

Moon cycle counting calendar Negev Desert Rock Art

Fig.5 Moon cycle counting calendar Negev Desert Rock Art ( photo Razy Yahel)

Conclusion

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 that provided a bridge between people and their gods.

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

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