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Astronomy in Rock Art. Moon Lunar Calendars in Negev Desert Rock Art

Ancient Moon Calendars in Negev Desert Rock Art

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 or vertical lines.

Early Moon Calendars

Approximately 20,000 years ago, humans started using lunar calendars as a highly valuable tool to organize both their daily and yearly lives. The use of lunar calendars was essential for ancient peoples who relied on agriculture for their livelihood. By tracking the lunar cycle, they could predict when to plant and harvest crops. They could also use the moon to time important events, such as religious festivals and hunting expeditions. The moon was often seen as a symbol of fertility and rebirth, and its phases were often used to mark important milestones in the human life cycle.

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.

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 Fig.1. 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.

The centipede with 28 legs depicting the moon/lunar calendar , Negev Desert Rock Art
Fig.2   The centipede calendar with 28 legs depicting the moon calendar, Negev Desert Rock Art.

Sin Moon Calendar, Negev Desert

The Sumerian culture had a significant influence on neighboring kingdoms in the Fertile Crescent region, including astronomy and their calendaric systems. This influence is engraved in Negev Desert rock art (Fig. 3), which depicts a seated figure with an outstretched hand greeting the moon. This figure is a direct copy of an image of the Sumerian moon god Sin, and it even wears the same hat as Sin. The 14 engraved vertical lines on the top of the rock art count the moon days by placing a stone on the line for each day that passes, and then removing a stone for each day until the full lunar cycle commences.

Lunar/Moon calendar, Negev Desert Rock Art. Sin the Sumerian Moon-god seats in the center
Fig.3   Moon calendar, Negev Desert. The figure in the center shows Sin, the Sumerian Moon-god, dated 2500 BC. This dates the rock art to the same historical time period.(photo Razy Yahel)

Star Moon Calendar, Negev Desert

Fig.4 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 begins from the left star, situated beneath the engraved sliver of the moon 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.

Lunar/Moon calendar Negev Desert Rock Art. Rock Art image counter in a star shape.
Fig.4    Moon cycle counting Star calendar Negev Desert Rock Art ( photo Razy Yahel)


The rock art discovered in the Negev Desert is proof of the early adoption of lunar calendars. The ancients used simple engravings of lines and dots to create monthly calendars, allowing them to track the passage of time even without directly observing the moon. These calendars played a crucial role in synchronizing society by guiding administrative, agricultural, and social activities.

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Yehuda Rotblum