Ibex role in Rock Art
Ibex role in Rock Art
Deciphering rock art from Israel, israelrockart.com.
The ibex holds a prominent position in rock art depictions, appearing in a variety of forms across Near Eastern cultures, including paintings, pottery, cylinder seals, and Kuduru boundary stones. The enduring significance of horned animals in ancient art and mythology is a testament to their cultural importance.
The early written records and engraved rock art suggest that the ibex has a strong association with fertility, and the symbol of the ibex represents a fertility deity. The following is a brief overview of the ibex’s significance in Near Eastern art that provides evidence of its connection to fertility.
Early Ibex Appearance
During the Chalcolithic period in 5500 BC, the ibex figure was inspired by the appearance of the Capricorn constellation, which marked the start of Autumn and the celebration of the Atiku New Year festival. This important event took place during harvest time and was seen as a time when the gods bestowed abundance. Pottery from the Central Plateau of Iran and Sumer depicts the ibex motif surrounded by dots (as shown in Fig. 2). This unique combination of symbols, with the ibex representing Capricorn and the dots representing stars, signaled the arrival of the New Year. The tree of life, in the center, symbolizes fertility.
The Ibex in Sumer
Sumerian cylinder seals, first used around 4000 BC, sealed official documents that carried with them a resolution with administrative power. These seals showed dramatic scenes, usually depicting a cosmic struggle that displayed the power to uphold the existing order.
Fig.3 shows a Sumerian cylinder seal depicting Enki (Ea in Acadian), the Sumerian god of life and replenishment. His symbol consists of a horned animal, usually an ibex, together with a fish or bird. The bird represents his control of the heavens, the fish represents the underworld, and the ibex represents the earth. From above and below, Enki looks at the fertilized fields, farms, flocks, and herds of animals. He is known as the “Lord of the Earth” and his vessel is called the “Ibex of the Apsu”.
The Ibex in Canaan
Archaeological findings attest to the ibex’s role in Canaan as a symbol of fertility and renewal. In the Canaanite pantheon, the goddess Asherah, identified as the consort of the god El, was the most popular goddess. Often, Ashera is depicted with an ibex, or two, and the tree of life. Fig.4: an ivory relief from Ugarit depicting Ashera nourishing the two ibexes. She is associated with the tree of life, which symbolizes nourishment and life. There are hundreds of large-breasted women figurines often pregnant, found in Israel, associated with the Ashera cult; their number indicates her popularity in many households.
The Ibex in Negev Desert Rock Art
On some Negev rock art, the Orion constellation appears as an elaborate ibex. The left figure, in Fig.5, depicts an ibex with two sets of horns that represent the constellations Orion, Taurus, and Hades. In the image on the right, we see the same ibex projected onto the constellation map. The ibex is composed of three constellations: Orion, Taurus, and Hades, which are located close to each other. Taurus is represented by the horns on the right. The “V” at the base of Taurus is Hade’s constellation. The three stars of Orion’s belt, his signature, appear in the head of the ibex. During the wintertime, these constellations’ appearance signifies the fertile season in the desert.
In Egypt, Osiris was associated with the constellation Orion (see Fertility and Rock Art) representing the god of renewal and fertility. In Fig.6, we see Orion’s association with the ibex in rock art. The three dots (Orion belt stars) and the two connected horns from the Taurus and Orion constellations show the engraver’s intent. Sometimes a small V appears in the ibex tail symbolizing the constellation Hades is another indication of this association. Fig.6 shows examples of the ibex rock art representing Orion.
The rock art from the Negev Desert, Fig.7 displays clever astronomy that identifies the seasons by observing Bootes and Orion constellations, see Seasons Marker. In wintertime, Bootes disappears and the ibex Orion constellation takes its place announcing the fertile season. It is clear that the desert people understood the ibex’s role. For them, his appearance in the sky announced the arrival of the fertility God.
The ibex continued role spanning through the Central Plateau of Iran and Sumer, Canaan, and the Negev Desert, from 5000BC to 150AD, shows a decisive association with fertility and renewal. Its role is described in the Sumerian ‘Enki and the World Order’ myth: ‘Wherever Enki goes, be it in the cities, among the shepherds or cow herders, in the field or even in the desert, virility comes forth. This gives abundance to all’.
Haghighat, A. 2010 towards the definition of missing phase in ancient metaphysics.
Dibon-Smith R. 2015 The Ibex as an Iconographic Symbol in the ancient Near East
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