Bootes Seasons Rock Art

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Bootes Seasons Marker

Rock art and its meaning. Deciphering rock art from Israel,

The constellation Boötes gets its name from the Greek word for farmer or shepherd, reflecting its association with agriculture and livestock. This constellation is positioned behind Ursa Major and Ursa Minor as they rotate around the North Star and Boötes the shepherd follows them indefinitely, see Fig1. The brightest star in Boötes, Arcturus, shines with a brilliant golden hue during spring and summer and is easily visible in the night sky.

summer constellation bootes
Fig.1  Northern constellations show the arrangement of stars around Bootes. Summer, July, looking North.

Arcturus, the primary star of the constellation Boötes, played a significant role in the lives of ancient navigators and farmers. As a celestial beacon, its rise and setting marked important astronomical events and informed seasonal activities. The Spring Equinox is the time of the year when the sun is positioned directly above the equator and marks the beginning of spring, as indicated by the rising of Arcturus in the sky. Conversely, its setting signaled the Fall Equinox, the beginning of autumn.

The renowned ancient Greek poet Hesiod, who lived around 700 BC, recognized the importance of Arcturus in his poem Works and Days. He instructed farmers to keep track of the passage of time by counting sixty days from the summer solstice and observing the rise of Arcturus. This was a crucial part of agricultural life, as the knowledge of the seasons was necessary for planting, harvesting, and caring for livestock.

‘Now, when Zeus has brought to completion sixty more winter days after the sun has turned in his course, the star Arcturus, leaving behind the sacred stream of the ocean, first begins to rise and shine at the edges of the evening. After him, the treble-crying swallow, Pandion’s daughter, comes into the sight of men when spring is just at the beginning. Be there before her. Prune your vines’.

Thus, Arcturus was not just a celestial body but also a symbol of wisdom, tradition, and practicality for ancient civilizations. Its significance in their lives highlights the interconnectedness of astronomy, agriculture, and culture.

Boötes as Seasons Marker rock art

The Negev rock art in Figure 2 illustrates the utilization of astronomical knowledge through rock art. It showcases a repeating pattern of three similar figures arranged in a circular formation. These figures depict the Boötes constellation as it appears at various times of the year. It is recognizable by its kite shape, the prominent star Arcturus located at its center symbolized by a dagger hanging from its belt, and the arms extended upwards,


 Boötes seasons marker rock art Negev Desert
Fig2 Left: Boote’s constellation poses in different seasons taken from the constellation chart. Right: Bootes Seasons rock art marker, Negev Desert Rockart.  (photo Raai Yahel)

The figures (Fig. 2) in the Negev rock art illustrate the changing positions of the Boötes constellation throughout the seasons. In the spring, Boötes is depicted as rising, symbolizing its rejuvenation after its fall. During the summer, it stands upright, while in the autumn, it disappears from the sky as shown by its falling pose, which represents death. As Boötes is no longer visible in the winter, the ibex (see Ibex and Rock art), which is also depicted in the rock art, takes its place as a symbol of the current fertile season. This cycle continues until Bootes reappears in the spring and the cycle starts anew.

Such a depiction of Boötes in the Negev rock art is a vivid illustration of how ancient peoples utilized astronomical knowledge in their daily lives. The arrangement of the figures in a circle highlights the cyclical nature of the seasons and the agricultural year. It is also an example of how they were able to track time using the stars, with Arcturus serving as an important marker for the change of seasons.


Boötes constellation played a significant role in the lives of ancient desert dwellers. As seen in the Negev rock art, they used astronomy to determine the seasons and the pose of the Bootes constellation indicated the changing seasons, from spring to autumn. The bright star Arcturus, located in the waist of the Bootes constellation, was easily recognizable and its rising and setting marked the Spring and Fall Equinoxes. The varying positions of the figures in the rock art depicted the changing seasons and the symbolism of death and revival.

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

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