Rock Art from Negev Desert interperted as Venus Calendar

What is this?     This is a counter, a version of Venus Calendar

How to Interpret Rock Art?

Interpreting rock art is essentially an archaeology of the ancient mind. It involves sorting and deciphering ancient knowledge that reconstructs the past and its associated beliefs. Each piece of rock art represents a thought, encapsulated within an imaginary wisdom sphere, symbolizing the collective ideas of the time it was created.

Always begin your interpretation by assuming that the rock art scene is not an imitation of life, but a record of beliefs practiced long ago. Interpreting rock art can be challenging because it reflects cultural contexts that are often unfamiliar to modern researchers. It may seem overstated, but deciphering rock art requires knowledge of various regional subjects, including archaeology, astronomy, mythology, history, and religion. A lack of a background in these subjects may lead one to focus solely on the rock art visual.

It is important to let go of one's modern bias and not consider the childlike rock art scene as a primitive expression. I discovered that beneath the first layer of rock art visuals exists a rich cultural world with subtle, deep meaning. Consider the following assumptions as guidelines for deciphering rock art: A general rule: 'All rock art are linked to heavens either directly or through myths'

• Rock art describes a heavenly story.
• Hunting scenes are cosmic struggles.
• Rock art is sacred and belongs to the realm of faith.

Understand the historical background

Rock Art did not sprout out of thin air! We can trace their roots to the ancient base of our knowledge that represents the region's pre-history. In essence, it attempts to answer life's big questions. So, study them! Collect regional anecdotes and myths and even look for their continuation nowadays. Ancient art embodies many ideas that have been brewing for a long time, weaving them into a visual form. Each rock art hides a story that extends beyond your initial impression. Explore its regional history to uncover it. Never trust your first impressions, but examine rock art closely to reveal its true meaning.

Classify your rock art

The classification of rock art is essential for understanding its symbols and for deciphering the whole scene. It is impossible to decode a rock art's symbolism from one image. To understand its meaning, you need to compare many rock art featuring the same symbol. Combine similar rock art scenes or recurring patterns into categories. I define rock art categories as scenes that represent a unique symbol arrangement that encapsulates the artist's intent. These reflect regional rituals or interpretations of natural phenomena.In many rock artworks, I found that repetitive symbols (sun, moon, boat, fish, Ibex, weapon, etc) or even complete scenes (creation, fertility, hunt, etc). Sometimes just grouping the symbols into one scene reveals their meaning. Don't look for any order in the scene, the symbols are scattered around, so scenes may overlap. The following are categories that I discovered in my deciphering efforts. Click them to learn more:

Sun journey

Find a connection to Astronomy

Sky worship is apparent in ancient religious expressions, be it a burial site, a tomb, rock art, or early script. Astronomy developed from Classical Astrology, which assigned an active part and a formative event to every star. According to ancient thinking, the stars represented gods that were considered masters of life on Earth and therefore worshiped religiously. When interpreting rock art pay attention to small details such as dots that may represent a star or a constellation. Look for orientation, patterns of lines, dots, squares, circles, and more, don't ignore them! If you find some pattern it is probably an important old counting mechanism such as the Moon calendar.

In ancient times, the changes in the Sun's path and the occurrence of Equinox and Solstice days were highly significant. They acted as astronomical clocks, regulating the rhythm of life in diverse cultures. These celestial events were connected to the annual appearance of seasonal stars and constellations, which were celebrated universally.

Find a connection to Myth

In ancient times, before the invention of writing, wisdom and knowledge were transmitted through myths. Myths encapsulated past wisdom through stories such as creation, fertility, seasons, natural forces, and other unexplained wonders that captured man’s imagination. As rock art appeared, it transformed the myths into visual form of that very knowledge which was being passed down through the ages. They are the cultural milestones in every ancient culture, so look for them in your rock art.


Interpreting rock art is an archaeology of the ancient mind, requiring a multidisciplinary approach and an understanding of regional history and beliefs. By following these key assumptions and techniques outlined here, it is possible to uncover the meaning behind each rock art scene and gain a deeper understanding of the culture and wisdom of the ancient world.

See examples of deciphered rock art in our Articles section and more in my book  Rock Art in Israel available online.

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Yehuda Rotblum