Ibex Hunt Sun Journey

mythological ibex hunt negev desert rock art

The Ibex that stole the Sun.

Deciphering rock art from Israel, isrelrockart.com.

In ancient Central Asian belief, the Sun was created by a volcanic fireball that erupted from the depths of the earth.  The sun’s home was in the underworld. Each day, the sun began its journey from the underworld and returned to its home at the end of the day.

The myth of “The ibex who stole the sun” describes the sun’s journey as a hunt. According to the myth, the ibex carried the sun from the underworld through the day until dusk. The sun was then confronted by a hunter, symbolizing the underworld god who fulfills his daily duties to release the sun back to its home.

In his book “Myth and Symbols” (1991), A. Golan captures the essence of the myth:  “A deer, an earthly creature, stole the sun maiden from the underworld and escaped with her to the sky; the furious lord of the underworld, the hunter, chased the deer, struck him down and got his sun maiden back.”  Ibex hunting scenes with the ibex carrying the sun are frequently depicted in rock art from the Negev Desert and Asia. In these scenes, the sun takes the form of a circle, a dot, or a cross, as shown in Fig.1.

rock art mythological scenes ibex carries the sun
Fig. 1 Examples, from Negev Desert Rock art, illustrate the Ibex carries the sun. The sun is represented by a circle or as a cross.

The hunt myth rock art

Figure 2 depicts the Sun’s hunt at dusk, the time of day when it is most vulnerable. The symbols in the myth include the Hunter, the Sun, the Ibex, and sometimes dogs that assist the underworld god (the hunter), as depicted. The left scene shows a confrontation between the hunter and the ibex. The hunter, with a beaked face symbolizing a deity, chases and captures the ibex by its horns. As he shakes the ibex’s horns, the Sun is freed (represented by the circle on the right) and returns safely to its home in the underworld, thus maintaining the daily balance.

sun myth the ibex hunt negev desert rock art
Fig.2 The sun myth the ibex hunt Negev desert rock art. The sun is the circle between the ibex horns.

The right side of the illustration depicts a hunting scene with dogs. Four symbols are present in this hunting scene: the hunter, the ibex holding the Sun between its horns, the two dogs, and the underworld fire beneath the ibex. The hunter, who wears a crown, symbolizes the underworld god. With the help of his dogs, he retrieves the Sun, represented as a complete circle between the ibex’s horns.

It is evident from the artistic similarities in both illustrations that the story is the same. The appearance of the sun and the behavior of the ibex provide two key clues. First, the ibex trapped between the hunter and the dogs appears calm and not alarmed, as one might expect from a wild animal. The animal stares calmly at the hunter and even surrenders to him with respect. Second, with the hunter and the dog’s diagonal postures, the artist shows his ability to convey movement or fear. Therefore, the behavior of the ibex in these illustrations suggests an imaginary event. This hunt transcends the essence of an earthly hunt, elevating it to mythological status.


the myth of the “ibex who stole the sun” is a central aspect of ancient Central Asian belief and is captured in various rock art depictions. Through these illustrations, the myth transcends the essence of an earthly hunt and elevates it to a mythological status. The depiction of the Sun and the behavior of the ibex provide key clues that suggest that the illustrated hunt is symbolic. The artist’s ability to convey movement and fear through the postures of the hunter and dogs further emphasizes the mythological nature of the story.

These illustrations offer a captivating glimpse into the beliefs and cultural practices of ancient Central Asian civilizations. The myth of the Sun hunt was widely recognized throughout the ancient world and similar concepts can be found in Egyptian (see Sun Journey), Asian, and European mythology. This myth provides an explanation for the cyclical nature of the sun, a complex process that was difficult to comprehend in ancient times. The myth implies that the Sun is controlled by mysterious forces in nature, which ensure its orderly behavior and preserve the daily balance of the universe.


Golan A. (1991)             Myth and Symbol
Kristiansen K. (2018)   The winged triad in Bronze Age symbolism: birds and their feet
Lahelma A,                     The Circumpolar Context of the Sun Ship’ Motif in South Scandinavian Rock Art
Salimbeti A. (2014)      The Greek Age of Bronze Ship

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

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