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Rock Art Moon Calendars

moon calendar rock art negev desert
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Moon Calendars in Negev Desert Rock Art

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. 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 dates since they marked the dispersed tribe’s pilgrimage days for rituals, worship, and social gathering – they are also 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 in the night sky. Its size and grandeur and proximity to earth made him undisputedly the most important god in ancient times. There is evidence that it was 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

Fig. 2 is a Negev rock art resembles a centipede, that was a creative way of forming a lunar calendar. This strange-looking creature has twenty-eight legs with a square at the end. The legs mimic a day in the lunar cycle with the square marking the moonless day’s station. In this counting scheme, each centipede leg corresponds to a day passed, and when they fully counted it marks the moon cycle completion. The moon cycle counting principle is similar to the Lascaux Cave deer presented in Fig1.

rock art moon calendar negev desert

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

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. We see the influence of Sumerian astronomy in Israel in Negev Desert rock art. The seated figure in  Fig.4  is a copy of the Sumerian god Sin evidenced by, the greeting form, the chair structure, the body posture, the outstretched hand, and even the same shaped hat.  On top of this rock art engraved 14 vertical lines that connect the Moon-god to its Moon Behaviour and its cycle. The cycle count proceeds by placing stone for each day passed, in both directions, which marks the full moon cycle.

moon calendar rock art negev desert

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

Fig.5 shows an example of a Negev Desert rock art used 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.

Moon cycle 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 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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