Rock Art Moon Calendars

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Ancient Moon Calendars in Negev Desert Rock Art

Rock Art and its meaning

Rock art proved to be an invaluable tool for tracking the lunar cycle, enabling the ancient peoples to monitor the phases of the moon indirectly. The early adoption of lunar calendars in Israel’s Negev Desert is authenticated through the interpretation of rock art. Some rock art presented here, features intricate calendars, while others display simple arrays of dots, typically 13 or 14, representing the day of the month.

Approximately 20,000 years ago, humans started using lunar calendars as a highly valuable tool to organize both their daily and yearly lives. With calendar knowledge, people were able to manage and coordinate their social and agricultural affairs.

Early Moon Calendars

The Moon is the most recognizable heavenly object in the night sky. Its size and grandeur and proximity to earth made him undisputedly the most important god in ancient times. Astronomical research indicates that moon tracking played a crucial role in the creation of crude calendars in many cultures.

The Horse and Deer moon calendars Lascaux cave
Fig.1 The Horse and Deer, Lascaux, France.

Fig.1 illustrates an ancient lunar calendar from the Lascaux Cave dated 15,000 BC. Under the pregnant four-legged animal are twenty-eight dots, each representing a day in a lunar cycle. The animal pregnancy symbolizes renewal, the same quality inherent in the moon cycle. On the right side under the deer, there is a square with thirteen dots, representing the number of crescent moon nights for half the moon cycle. The count proceeds in both directions forming twenty-six days, the number of days the Moon appears in the sky. The square is a “rest station” that marks the moonless days.

Rock Art Moon Calendars from Negev Desert

The average length of a lunar month is 29.5 days. The moon is visible for 28 days, after which it disappears for the remainder of the lunar cycle.  The rock art from Negev Desert, Fig. 2, resembles a centipede that forms a creative lunar calendar with indications for moonless and visible days. The moon cycle counting principle is similar to the Lascaux Cave horse presented in Fig1. This imaginative centipede has twenty-eight legs with a square at the end. In a lunar cycle, each leg represents a day. When all of the legs have been counted, it marks the cycle completion. Symbolically, the square covering the last leg of the centipede represents the moon’s disappearance at the end of the cycle.

Lunar calendar rock art. Rock Art in Israel.
Fig.2. The centipede calendar with 28 legs depicting the moon calendar, Negev Desert Rock Art

Sin Moon Calendar, Negev Desert

The Sumerian culture spread in the Fertile Crescent region and neighboring kingdoms adopted Sumerian astronomical observations as part of their calendar systems. We can see this influence in rock art from the Negev Desert. In the center of Fig.4, we see a seated figure, taken from a Sumerian cylinder seal. This is an image of the Sumerian moon god Sin. His outstretched hand greets the Moon that shines above. The seated figure in the rock art in Fig.4 is a copy of the Sumerian god Sin. This is evident from the greeting form, the chair structure, the posture, and the outstretched hand. They even wear the same hat.   The 14 engraved vertical lines, on top, counts the moon cycle. The cycle count proceeds by placing a stone for each day passed, in both directions, which marks the passage of the full moon cycle.

Moon calendar in rock art
Fig.4 Moon calendar, Negev Desert. The figure in the center shows a typical pose for Sin, the Sumerian Moon-god.

Star Moon Calendar, Negev Desert

Fig.5 shows an example of a Negev Desert rock art interpreted as a moon calendar. The two star-like engravings with 7 rays each count the moon days, similar to the Venus Calendar. The counting process commences from the left star, situated beneath the engraved sliver of the moon depicted above. A stone is added to the first star every day, and when it fills, the count continues on the lower star. Counting proceeds until it reaches the ray with a full moon, indicating the conclusion of the half-moon cycle completing 14 days. Following this, the reverse counting process begins, with one stone being removed every day until none remain, signifying the end of the lunar cycle. Additionally, we can observe four lines at the bottom of the artwork that signifies the weeks, with each line denoting a week of seven days. This feature enables the viewer to determine the current week within the lunar cycle.

calendar in rock art,
Fig.5 Moon cycle counting calendar Negev Desert Rock Art ( photo Razy Yahel)


Rock art in the Negev Desert, Israel proves an early adoption of lunar calendars. The Negev Desert rock art includes creative calendars, such as the centipede calendar and the star moon calendar, as well as depictions of the Sumerian moon god Sin. Lunar calendars provided a sense of rhythm and coordinated people’s spiritual, social, and pilgrimage activities to worship their gods. The calendars synchronized society and provided crucial information on the seasons.

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

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