Comet depiction in Rock Art

Comet portrayal in Negev rock art

Rock art offers us a glimpse of early artists mind trying to explain various unfamiliar phenomenas. Comets, which manifest as radiant stars with luminous tails, with dazzling halo, is a prime example. The profound visual impact of comets has led many to believe that their appearance conveyed messages from their gods.

The Greek word “kometes” meaning 'long-haired star', refers to the comet’s glowing tail. Aristotle described comets as 'running like a road through the constellations'. Comets have two types of tails: a straight, bluish and, white to yellowish tail. The tail always points away from the Sun and sometimes it seems to defy gravity, as it moves towards its tail or in other instances toward its nucleus.

Comets in Rock Art

Rock art preserve ancient celestial imagery, shedding light on how early societies interpreted comets. These recurring depictions unveil their perception of comets as representations of horse-riding warriors wielding elongated, spear-like weapons engaged in battles against unseen adversaries.

Rock Art Comet depiction as a horse and rider
Fig.2    The representation of a comet as a horse and rider is depicted in scenes 1 and 2, while scene 3 portrays an actual spear, highlighting the contrast in the comet abstraction.

In Fig.2, a clear distinction emerges between a comet and its representation as a spear. The scenes illustrate the difference between a comet and its abstraction in rock art. In Scene 1, we see a curved spear that symbolizes the comet's path as observed from Earth. Pay attention to the bulky nucleus on the right and the direction in which the comet's tail extends; it gives the impression that the comet is moving toward its tail. Scene 2 replicates these unique characteristics, with the comet seemingly moving toward its nucleus. For comparison, Scene 3 features a rock art depiction of a horse and rider holding an actual spear. In this case, the sharp edge of the spear is clearly visible.

Unusual Horse and Rider with a Spear in Negev Rock Art

The scene depicted in Fig.3 shows a rider on a horse with multiple tails. The rider is holding a spear with a bulky head. The diagonal dots, emanate from the spear bulky end, extend through the horse's tail. Notably, these tails are shorter and less developed, somewhat resembling a broom.

The portrayal of the horse's hooves resembling wheels reflects the artist's creative vision of how the comet moves through the sky. This artistic rendering draws parallels to the Roman notion of the sun's chariots, which were thought to traverse the heavens in a similar manner.

The horse with multiple tails and rider hurling 
	a spear symbolize a comet in Negev rock art
Fig.3    The horse with multiple tails and rider hurling a spear symbolize a comet. (photograph by Razy Yahel) On the right a real comet(photo NASA) .

The horse and rider Fig.3 represent a comet in motion, galloping across the sky. The rider throws a spear towards the horse's tail, symbolizing the direction of the comet's motion. This symbolism is reinforced by the rider's turned head and feet, aligning with the comet's movement direction.

The Comet as Demon in Rock Art

The Jewish Maccabean Revolt of 164 BC coincided with the appearance of Halley's Comet. According to Horowitz W (2018), the comet was more luminous and larger in appearance than Venus. Historical records also indicate that Halley's Comet made a return to the region in 66 AD, just before the onset of the Jewish uprising against Rome from 66 to 73 AD. Josephus, a Romano-Jewish historian from the first century, described it as follows: "And so it was that a star resembling a sword stood over the city (Jerusalem); a comet persisted for a very long time."

Comet Rock Art-Demon riding a horse holding a spear
Fig.4    Demon riding a horse holding a spear, Negev rock art, passing by the moon (photo Razy Yahel)

The rock art depicted in Fig.4 showcases a horned figure gripping a curved spear. This representation is a customary depiction of a horned demon, which ancient societies associated with an omen of impending danger. The curvature of the spear in the image mimics the visual resemblance of a comet in the sky, tracing its trajectory along the Earth's curvature. The faint presence of the moon on the left side of the scene suggests that it represents a night sky.

Conclusion

In these rock art depictions, the celestial phenomenon of a comet is rendered using earthly symbols, adding authenticity to the scenes. The horse with its wheel-like hooves, acts as a bridge between the artwork and the concept of a comet traversing the sky, akin to the Roman portrayal of the Sun Chariot.

Comets have captivated the human imagination for centuries, finding their way into rock art as foreboding omens linked to calamity and mortality. Ancient civilizations bridged the celestial and terrestrial realms, utilizing symbols and illustrations to elucidate the enigmatic movements of comets. Within the realm of rock art, the representation of a horse and rider symbolizes a comet in motion, while the depiction of a demon riding a horse with a curved spear conveys the fear associated with comets.


Bibliography


Coimbra F. The sky on the Rock: Cometary images2 on Rock Art
Gardner S. 2016 The sun, moon, and stars of the southern Levant at Gezer
Horowitz W 2018 Halley’s Comet and Judean Revolts Revisited
Aksoy O., A combat Archeology viewpoint on weapon representation in Arabia Rock Art.

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Yehuda Rotblum