Astronomy in Rock Art. Boötes Seasons Marker in Negev rock art.

Boötes Seasons Marker

People utilized astronomy to track the changing seasons. They engraved constellations as symbols into rock art, using them as a reference to recognize the season. Among these celestial figures was the constellation Boötes, meaning in Greek "shepherd". Boötes, an part of the immortal constellations revolving around the North Star, faithfully trailed the Ursa Major and Ursa Minor constellations (the Bears) as they endlessly circled the celestial pole. (refer to Fig1).

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

During spring and summer, the brightest star in Boötes, Arcturus, radiated a brilliant golden hue and was easily visible in the night sky. 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 winter 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.

‘ When Zeus has finished sixty wintry days after the solstice, then the star Arcturus [late February, early March] leaves the holy stream of Ocean and first rises brilliant at dusk. After him the shrilly wailing daughter of Pandion, the swallow, appears to men when spring is just beginning. Before she comes, prune the vines, for it is best'.

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

Boötes as Seasons Marker rock art

The Negev rock art in Fig.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 pose as it appears in different seasons. 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,

Rock Art of Boote's constellation poses at different seasons
Fig.2    Left: Boote's constellation poses at different seasons taken from the constellation chart. Right: Bootes Seasons rock art marker, Negev Desert Rockart.  (photo Raai Yahel)

In the spring, Boötes is just rising, symbolizing its rejuvenation. 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 (Orion constellation see Ibex and Rock art), takes its place as a symbol of the winter season.


Boötes constellation played a significant role in the lives of ancient desert dwellers. As seen in the Negev rock art, 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 symbolized death and revival.

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Yehuda Rotblum