Astronomy in Rock Art. Boötes Seasons Marker in Negev rock art.

Boötes Seasons Marker

The ancient people utilized their knowledge of astronomy to track the seasons. They engraved seasonal constellations and stars in rock art, using them as a guide to observe the sky. For instance, the constellation Boötes was used to mark the seasons. Boötes, derived from the Greek word for "farmer" or "shepherd," was associated with agriculture and livestock. Positioned behind Ursa Major and Ursa Minor as they circled around the North Star, Boötes the shepherd followed them endlessly (refer to Fig1).

Northern constellations show the arrangement of stars around Bootes
Fig.1    Northern constellations show the arrangement of stars around Bootes. Summer, July, looking North

During spring and summer, the brightest star in Boötes, Arcturus, radiated a brilliant golden hue and was easily visible in the night sky. As a celestial beacon, its rise and setting marked important astronomical events and informed seasonal activities. The Spring Equinox is the time of the year when the sun is positioned directly above the equator and marks the beginning of spring, as indicated by the rising of Arcturus in the sky. Conversely, its setting signaled the Fall Equinox, the beginning of autumn.

The renowned ancient Greek poet Hesiod, who lived around 700 BC, recognized the importance of Arcturus in his poem Works and Days. He instructed farmers to keep track of the passage of time by counting sixty days from the summer solstice and observing the rise of Arcturus. This was a crucial part of agricultural life, as the knowledge of the seasons was necessary for planting, harvesting, and caring for livestock.

‘Now, when Zeus has brought to completion sixty more winter days after the sun has turned in his course, the star Arcturus, leaving behind the sacred stream of the ocean, first begins to rise and shine at the edges of the evening. After him, the treble-crying swallow, Pandion's daughter, comes into the sight of men when spring is just at the beginning. Be there before her. Prune your vines’.

Thus, Arcturus was not just a star but also a symbol of wisdom, tradition, and practicality for ancient civilizations. Its significance in their lives highlights the interconnectedness of astronomy, agriculture, and culture.

Boötes as Seasons Marker rock art

The Negev rock art in Fig.2 illustrates the utilization of astronomical knowledge through rock art. It showcases a repeating pattern of three similar figures arranged in a circular formation. These figures depict the Boötes constellation as it appears at various times of the year. It is recognizable by its kite shape, the prominent star Arcturus located at its center symbolized by a dagger hanging from its belt, and the arms extended upwards,

Rock Art of Boote's constellation poses at different seasons
Fig.2    Left: Boote's constellation poses at different seasons taken from the constellation chart. Right: Bootes Seasons rock art marker, Negev Desert Rockart.  (photo Raai Yahel)

The figures (Fig. 2) in the Negev rock art illustrate the changing positions of the Boötes constellation throughout the seasons. In the spring, Boötes is depicted as rising, symbolizing its rejuvenation after its fall. During the summer, it stands upright, while in the autumn, it disappears from the sky as shown by its falling pose, which represents death. As Boötes is no longer visible in the winter, the ibex (see Ibex and Rock art), which is also depicted in the rock art, takes its place as a symbol of the current fertile season. This cycle continues until Bootes reappears in the spring and the cycle starts anew.


Boötes constellation played a significant role in the lives of ancient desert dwellers. As seen in the Negev rock art, Bootes constellation indicated the changing seasons, from spring to autumn. The bright star Arcturus, located in the waist of the Bootes constellation, was easily recognizable and its rising and setting marked the Spring and Fall Equinoxes. The varying positions of the figures in the rock art depicted the changing seasons and the symbolism of death and revival.

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Yehuda Rotblum