Episodic Survey of the History of the Constellations
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C: Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age Levant Constellations
3: Lion iconography as constellation?
The term Levant is most usually intended - geographically and historically - to define the western area of the Near East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea.
In her 2002 doctoral thesis The moon and stars of the southern Levant at Gezer and Megiddo: Cultural astronomy in Chalcolithic/Early and Middle Bronze Ages. (based on her archaeological experience at both sites) Sara Gardner identifies certain pavement drawings at Gezer and Megiddo as representations of constellations. (Particularly a drawing of a lion at Gezer which dates from 1600 BCE and another drawing of a lion at Megiddo which is dated to the Chalcolithic Period.) Sara Gardner holds that astronomy was used in the southern Levant before any significant contact with the civilisations of either Egypt or Mesopotamia. However, it is generally accepted that in the Jamdat Nasr period particularly, i.e., about 3200 BCE the evidence of cylinder seal impressions found in Megiddo and in Byblos shows there was strong Mesopotamian influence in the Levant in what is now modern-day Syria and Palestine. This is also recognised as the time during which the art of late Predynastic Egypt was being assimilated to Mesopotamian models.
There is no evidence for the constellation Leo existing in Mesopotamia in the 3rd-millennium BCE. I am not aware of any textual evidence for a Sumerian lion constellation at this early period (i.e., 3rd or 2nd millennium BCE). Any claim for such relies on cylinder seal iconography. It is not established that constellations/constellation symbols are being depicted on any early cylinder seals. The earliest solid reference (i.e., textual evidence) to a lion constellation in Mesopotamia is Hilprecht's Nippur Text (HS 245 (= HS 229)) which is dated to the Cassite Period circa 1530-1160 BCE. Any claim for an earlier lion constellation in the Levant likely indicates an independent origin.
The idea that credible 3rd-millennium BCE constellation and astral material may be found outside of Mesopotamia is worth investigation. It may be that early Middle East constellations made their way into Mesopotamia. The earliest mention of the lion constellation (Leo) in Mesopotamia is in the astrolabe genre.
The inclusion of a discussion of the possible identification of a symplegma constellation comprising a wolf on the back of a bull (comprising the stars of Ursa Major) was not proceeded with by Gardner. It was felt the evidence would not withstand critical scrutiny. The constellation section of Gardner's doctoral dissertation dealt only with the possible identification of Leo and Orion. A possible dual-figure wolf-bull constellation in the early Middle East is likely to be as speculative as Willy Hartner's hypothetical dual-figure lion-bull constellation in the early Near East. Interestingly, it would appear that in the iconography of northern Medieval Europe the biblical lion was represented by a wolf. The wolf is an established figure in Old Norse mythology.
The southern Levant basically encompasses the territory of modern-day Israel and Jordan. The Chalcolithic Period covers circa 4500-3500 BCE; the Early Bronze Age covers circa 3000-2000 BCE; and the Middle Bronze Age covers circa 2000-1500 BCE. Two important archaeological sites are at Gezer and Megiddo. Gezer is located on the edge of the foothills of the Judean Range, 3 km south south east of Ramaleh. Megiddo is the only site in the southern Levant that is mentioned by every great power in the ancient Near East. This is undoubtedly because Megiddo guarded the Via Maria - the important highway that connected Egypt with Mesopotamia.
Images of the sun, the moon and the stars are common decoration motifs in the southern Levant from as early as the Chalcolithic Period. As decorating motifs they are found on pavements, walls, pottery, and seals.
Gardner's PhD Thesis
The sun, moon and stars of the southern Levant at Gezer and Megiddo: Cultural astronomy in Chalcolithic/Early and Middle Bronze Ages by Sarah Gardner (2002).
Abstract: "Astronomical images are found on monumental structures and decorative art, and metaphorically in seasonal myths, and are documented by calendars. In Israel and the southern Levant, images of the sun, the moon, and the stars were common decorating motifs. They were found on walls, pottery, and seals and date to as early as the Chalcolithic period; for example, the wall painting of a star at Teleilat Ghassul (North 1961). This dissertation establishes that the people of the Levant were aware of the apparent movement of the sun, and this will be discussed in Chapter 4. They began recording through representation drawings, astronomical phenomena no later than the Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age and continued to do so late into the Middle Bronze Age. The argument moves beyond the simple use of symbols to the use of images to represent constellations, with the focus on the constellation Leo in Chapter 5. Furthermore, the use of astronomy as a power and political tool is also suggested in Chapter 6. Nonetheless, the primary purpose that is addressed here is the tendency in Syro-Palestinian archaeology has been to attribute technological evidence found in the northern and southern Levant as diffused from Egypt or Assyria, particularly astronomy. This dissertation firmly establishes that astronomy was used in the southern Levant before any significant contact with the civilizations of Egypt or Assyria."
Paper presented by Sara Gardner at Oxford VI and SEAC VII Conference 99 : "The Constellations of Chacolithic/early Bronze Megiddo (Israel)."
See also: "The State of Archaeo/ethnoastronomy and the Land of the Bible." by Sara Gardner (Essays From, Archaeoastronomy & Ethnoastronomy News, the Quarterly Bulletin of the Center for Archaeoastronomy, Number 24, September Equinox, 1996).
An example of the use of the star motif is the numerous star depictions found at Teleilat el-Ghassul (an archaeological site in modern-day Jordan, located in the lower Jordan Valley northeast of, and close to, the Dead Sea) dating to the 4th millennium BCE. (The uppermost level, Ghassul IV, existed until the beginning of the Bronze Age period.) The main design motif at Teleilat el-Ghassul is an elaborate eight-pointed star. Teleilat el-Ghassul was occupied till circa 2000 BCE. The undistinguished 50-acre site is the largest known Chalcolithic site in the Jordan Valley. The murals with the star depictions were discovered during the 1931-1932 and 1932-1933 excavations.
Eight-pointed star painted on interior wall at Teleilat el-Ghassul. It is called the 'Star Painting' of Teleilat el-Ghassul. If I understand correctly, the large Star Painting was destroyed during a failed attempt to detach it from the wall.
A particular example of the star as a decoration motif is the particular wall sized painting (mural) of a star at Teleilat el-Ghassul. Inside one building there is an unusual wall painting of an eight-pointed "star" within a larger eight-pointed "star," culminating in a burst of eight rays. This most outstanding wall painting is the so-called Star of Ghassul. It is almost 2 metres across and is surrounded by various mythological creatures. The star is painted with red, black, and white mineral paints. The function of this particular painting is unknown. Andrea Polcaro has suggested that the large Ghassulian Star Painting of a big star is identifiable with the Sun. (The only important astral objects it can likely be identified with are the Sun or Venus.)
"Fresco fragments were executed in many rooms, and it was assumed that the paintings were executed in a domestic context. These wall paintings, it should be noted, were not single creations. Rather, they were continuously plastered over and repainted. ... It has recent been speculated that the painted rooms were in fact shrines situated within the dense building clusters. ... The most remarkable segment is the star fresco. It consists of a large eight pointed [i.e., rayed] star, 1.84 meters in diameter. [It is located on a west wall that is opposite an eastern entrance.] Its center is composed of concentric circles and contains two more eight-pointed stars. The innermost star is white on a black background; the second is white, bordered with black, on a red cross-hatched background; and the outermost star has alternating red and black rays. [The star is surrounded by depictions of masks, animals, and temples and these testify to the cultic nature of the painting and the room.] The execution is most precise." (Rivka Gonen "The Chalcolithic Period." In: Amnon Ben-Tor (Editor). The Archaeology of Ancient Israel. (1992) (Chapter 3).)
In another building, on the west wall, a painted wall mural depicts a row of people (the first two of whom are seated) and a luminary (either the sun or the moon, and indicated by a double circle) rising above what are obviously mountains. Also, there is a (faint) depiction of a rayed sun or star behind a another person. It is possible that a cultic ceremony is being depicted.
The culture predominant in the Levant during the Chalcolithic period in Palestine is known as the 'Ghassulian Culture' named after Teleilat el-Ghassul. The Ghassullian culture has been identified in numerous places in what is now southern Israel, especially in the area of Beersheba. The settlement at Teleilat el-Ghassul occupied a large area and was perhaps the primary settlement in the southern Levant. The function of the houses with paintings Teleilat el-Ghassul remains controversial.
The Gezer site has 10 standing stones and a cave that has drawings of the stones against a horizon that presently still exists (or did circa 2000 CE). The Gezer site dates from circa 2900-1600 BCE. The cave dates back to circa 2900 BCE.
A votive altar (incense altar) with a star-motif (star-like object) on it was discovered at Gezer. The star-motif (star-like object) is in the field (or background). Included in this particular iconography is a badly drawn lion with a man. According to one interpretation the lion in the foreground is being slain. The lion is depicted with a shoulder ornament (a second star) that may have an astral significance. The shoulder ornament (star) has been interpreted as the star Regulus, which also marks the shoulder of the lion constellation Leo. However, the depiction of shoulder (or body) ornaments on lions does not conclusively demonstrate an astral significance. The application of example-by-example analysis throughout the ancient Near East indicates that the depiction of shoulder ornamentation on lions can denote (but not always) an astral significance. This votive altar at Gezer (with badly drawn lion and star-like object) has been incorrectly dated to circa 7th-century BCE but correctly is to be dated to circa 1600 BCE-1400 BCE. A lion figure is also etched on a paving stone at Megiddo and dated to the Early Bronze Age.
Sara Gardner (personal communication, 5-March-2001) advised that the lion appears at Gezer in 1400 BCE in a drawing with a star on the shoulder and above its back This motif is repeated in constant use until at least circa 800 BCE. (Note: Helene Kantor ("The Shoulder Ornament of Near Eastern Lions", Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Volume 6, Number 4, October, 1947, Pages 250-274) holds that the shoulder ornament depicted on lions designates a constellation. However, it appears there are 2 types of shoulder ornaments on lions - one being interpreted as a planet designation i.e., Venus = Inanna. See also: "The Lion with Body Markings in Oriental Art" by Anne Vollgraff-Roes, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Volume 12, Number 1, January, 1953, Pages 40-49.)
A depiction on a votive altar at Gezer is comprised of a badly drawn lion with a man, with a star-like object in the background. The lion is depicted with a shoulder ornament that can denote (but not always) an astral significance. This votive altar (and iconography) at Gezer has been incorrectly dated to circa 7th-century BCE by some but correctly is dated to 1400 BCE. (See: Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God in Ancient Israel by O. Keel and C. Uehlinger (1998, Page 331, Figure 372.) Sara Gardner believes that the star-like object depicted in the background above the lion is the sun rising at the time of the summer solstice above the constellation of the lion. (She believes the ornament (astral image) on the body of the lion is most probably the star Regulus or the heart of the lion.) (The identification of lion iconography with the constellation Leo is not uncommon speculation.) A different plausible interpretation is that the star-like object above the lion is Venus. Franz Kugler in his booklet Sibyllinischer Sternkampf und Phaëthon in naturgeschichtlicher Beleuchtung (1927) shows that in the ancient Near East the lion was associated with Venus as morning star. The identification with a comet has also been made.
According to Sara Gardner, the lion depicted on the votive altar at Gezer was positioned as it would have been seen rising above the horizon as the lion constellation, i.e., with the head upwards.
The Gezer lion is discussed within an astronomical context in Religion in Judah under the Assyrians by John McKay (1973). It formed part of his PhD dissertation. The scope of the astral discussion is quite wide ranging. McKay interprets the drawing as the lion being slain. McKay thinks the shoulder star on the Gezer lion may be the "King Star" Regulus (mul LUGAL). McKay also refers to another similar lion on a plaque from Tell es-Safi but provides no illustration. Sara Gardner (personal communication, 10 April 2001) comments: "... that the Gezer lion is not being slain in 1400 BCE, prior to Assyrian contact and/or occupation. Furthermore the lion from Megiddo dates to 3300 BCE, a firm date. It is most probably "the lion of wrath" that is associated with Judah. By the Assyrian occupation, if you look at the seals from Assyrian (sic) the lion is being slain by the king perhaps. But that is not to say that the Israelites will have the same perspective. I would agree that [the] Assyrians alter the imaging to the king defeating the lion because we have too many images that demonstrate that. But that is not applicable to the images from Syria to Judah at these early periods."
Note: On some depictions of the Assurbanipal lion hunting reliefs the lion being slain by the Neo-Assyrian period king has a hair whorl in the star shape. However, hair whorls may be naturalistic detail.
An excellent scholarly text on ancient Near Eastern and Greek and Roman symbolism is Dictionary of Symbolism by Hans Bierdermann (1992). It is based on Knaurs Lexicon der Symbole and was translated into English by James Hulbert. The German-language edition by Hans Bierdermann (1930-1990) was published 1989.
The Megiddo site has 36 drawing found as of circa 2000. Among the drawings Sara Gardner identifies several with stars, comets, and a crescent moon. The Megiddo site date is circa 3300 BCE.
Paving stones at the Bronze Age city of Megiddo are believed by Sara Gardner to contain representations of astral images. The date of the pavement at Megiddo where the figures appear date to the Chalcolithic Period (3400-3300 BCE).
Megiddo has a large paved open area sloping eastwards toward Mount Tabor and Mount Moreh. A stone altar was situated in the centre of the pavement. Thirty-six of the paving stones located at the stone altar (at the cult centre at Megiddo) are incised with a variety of figures (both human and animal) and geometric shapes. Five are astral symbols that include representations of stars, comets, and the crescent moon. A lion figure is also etched on a paving stone at Megiddo (dated by some to the Early Bronze Age). Sara Gardner holds that the constellation Leo appears on the Chalcolithic pavements at Megiddo (dating to 3,300 BCE). "To date the earliest image of a single lion juxtaposed across from a man is found at Megiddo. Generally, the man is identified as either a fallen enemy or a king/hero (The moon and stars of the southern Levant at Gezer and Megiddo by Sara Gardner (2002, Page 133)."
Three of the figures at the stone altar have astral symbols: (1) a figure with a harp (lyre) ("Megiddo Harper") in upraised left hand appears with the crescent moon to his right; (2) a star symbol appears to the right of 3 human figures (which partly surround it); and (3) a star appears together with an irregular rectangle. (These are dated circa 3300 BCE.) Sara Gardner identifies the figure of a Harper at Megiddo with the constellation Orion.
Sara Gardner's interpretation of the lion and fallen man (enemy?) iconography at Megiddo as a constellation depiction (imposed over the constellation Leo). She believes the lion constellation can be dated to the Chalcolithic Period in the southern Levant. In her interpretation the lion is equivalent to the zodiacal Leo. The man is usually identified as a fallen enemy or king/hero. The top right 'streaming' shape is believed by Sara Gardner to be a depiction of a comet, possibly Halley's comet. (Illustration of the Megiddo drawing imposed over the constellation Leo is used with the permission of the copyright © holder Dr Sara L. Gardner.)
Depiction of comet on paving stone at Megiddo? On the right is a female carrying a staff (or spear?). The towards top left 'streaming' shape is believed by Sara Gardner to be a depiction of a comet, possibly Halley's comet. (Illustration of the Megiddo drawing of a female (warrior?) carrying a staff is used with the permission of the copyright © holder Dr Sara L. Gardner.)
A presentation on the Standing Stones of Gezer was presented (1998) at the ASOR (The American Schools of Oriental Research) annual meeting (Stream: A5, Hebrew Bible, History, and Archaeology) and then at the Oxford VI conference. The audience at the Oxford VI conference (held in the town of La Laguna on the island of Tenerife, Spain, 1999) proved more skeptical. This is unsurprising. There is the involvement of considerable speculation in the formation of Sara Gardner's ideas.
Presentation 1998 ASOR Annual Meeting (San Antonio, Texas, November 16-19): The Gezer Standing Stone, Cave 30: IV Graffiti and Joshua 120:12-13: Astronomical Observatory and Astral Records. Abstract: "Archaeoastronomy provides principles through which we can understand the place of the standing stones at Gezer in Canaanite and Israelite culture: not as stone monuments or stone deities, but as astronomical monuments used to regulate calendars and marl important celestial events such as the solstices, equinoxes, and lunar standstills. The standing stones at Gezer were placed on a True North/South alignment and the alter on the west side of the stones faced east to the direction of the equinoxes, which indicates that the stones were used for astronomical observation. The placement of the stones is not the only evidence though. Joshua 10:12-13 recorded the phenomena of the sun and moon standing still at Gibeon and the valley of Aijalon, and both standstills would have been visible on the northeastern horizon as viewed from behind the standing stones at Gezer. Furthermore, in Cave 30:IV graffiti was found by Macalister around a ledge at approximately eye level, and several of the drawings show the standing stones in relationship to the eastern or western horizon with animals rising above them. These animals represented constellations as the ancient Canaanites perceived them, not as the modern constellations we see today. This evidence demonstrates that Gezer was an astronomical observation site."
Essays From, Archaeoastronomy & Ethnoastronomy News, the Quarterly Bulletin of the Center for Archaeoastronomy, Number 31, March Equinox, 1999; News Notes: "LUNAR STANDSTILLS? Sara L. Gardner a graduate student at the University of Arizona, has speculated that the text from Joshua 10: 12-13 provided the earliest mention of this phenomenon. She also suggested that the site of Gezer in Israel with its standing stones might have been a place from which such observation were made. She presented her data on Gezer at the 1998 American Schools of Oriental Research Conference in Orlando where it was well-received, including the text connection between Joshua and lunar standstills. The biblical scholars at this conference accepted her data as evidence that the people of Gezer had a basic knowledge of astronomy. With the help of Ray White of Steward Observatory, the data show that the ten standing stones at Gezer mark the June solstice, equinoxes and the southern lunar excusion (sic, [excursion]), all within 1 degree. The stones date to 1600 BCE. Nearby drawings in a cave that show how the stones were used date to before 2900 BCE, before Egyptian contact with this site. The Joshua text doesn't fit with Gezer as the place of his observation, but the organization of this site indicates the type of observations were made."
In a recent posting on the Internet (2009) Sara Gardner stated she also believes the "Leopard temple" in the Negev (semi-desert region of southern Israel) and Sinai (desert land that is Israel's border with Egypt) are celestial images on the ground but is currently unable to make any further interpretation. The so-called "Leopard temple" in the Uvda Valley in the Negev is dated to circa 7,000 BCE, and amongst the stones bearing carvings of feline figures there is also a carving of a leopard. The leopard was identified by having darker stones to emphasise where the spots were. (The leopard was common in the Levant in biblical times and survived in Palestine up till at least circa 1950. A small population of Sinai leopards still exist (2007) in the Sinai Peninsula.)
Miscellaneous Evidence for Early Canaanite Astral Mythology and Astral Worship (Astral Gods/Goddesses)
Canaanite astral beliefs precede the Assyrian period of domination beginning circa 6th-century BCE. The kings of Judah became associated with astral cults. The newer astral cults became popular in the 8th-century BCE. The astral cults (star worship and other cults) purged by Josiah (king of Judah, 7th-century BCE) may have had their origins in the indigenous religion of Northwest Semitic culture or in the imperial religion of Assyria. Prior to the time of Assyrian domination the Palestinian mother-goddess in her own right had astral attributes, and was sometimes regarded as an astral goddess (Queen of Heaven). She was represented as an astral goddess at Ugarit, Megiddo, Gezer, Bethshan, and Tell es-Safi. On a bronze plague from Ras Shamra (Ugarit) the mother goddess is portrayed standing on the back of a lion which has a star imprinted on its shoulder. It is thought that this star was likely Regulus. The evidence suggests the sun cult at least was Canaanite rather than Assyrian. More widely, it seems indicated that the roots of Baal (a Canaanite storm god), sun and moon (Moon god) worship existed in pre-Assyrian Judean cultic practice. (The worship of the sun was widespread throughout the ancient Near East. The most famous of the approximately 6 (known) Canaaanite sun cult sites is Beth-Shemesh ('house of the sun').)
The god 'Athtar in the Baal poems is identified with Venus as the morning star in Canaanite religion.
Astral medallions in the form of an 8-rayed star, centrally placed inside a bowl, goes back to the Canaanite religious and artistic background of the Bronze age (possibly a Phoenician motif).
At Ugarit, the occurrences of the terms kbkb and kbkbn in the context of several passages makes it clear they refer to luminaries in the night sky, in a religious context. (See: R. E. Whitaker, A Concordance of the Ugaritic Literature (1972, Page 343).)
Anne Jeffers believes (Magic and Divination in Ancient Palestine and Syria (1996)) that the Ugaritic material shows that astrology was widely spread and practised at a very early time. Also, that there are quite definite traces of Israelite) astrology during the pre-exilic period. The use of a lunar-solar calendar in the Old Testament times necessitated reasonably precise astronomical data. In addition to knowledge of elementary astronomy, astral religion was widespread in the Ancient Near East, including the Israelite world (for example the worship of the "Queen of Heaven" in Judah at the end of the 7th-century BCE). This mother-goddess was also characterized as an astral goddess at Ugarit, Megiddo, Gezer, Beth-shan, and Tell es-Safi. Later prophetic invective against astral worship shows the extent to which astral worship was an integral part of the popular practice of Israelite religion.
The astral god kakkab was worshipped at Ebla.
An unprovenanced astronomical bowl (possibly from ancient Syria) in the Shlomo Moussaieff collection (he is a businessman and antiquities collector) depicts Orion as a hero and the Pleiades as '7 dots.' The possibility (but uncertain) that the Pleiades is depicted on a terracotta model shrine from Tell el-Farah North (Stratum VIIb) 11th-10th century BCE has been discussed by William Dever (See: Dever, William. (1994) "The Silence of the Text: An Archaeological Commentary on 2 Kings 23." In: Coogan, M[?]. et al. (Editors). Scripture and Other Artefacts – Essays on the Bible and Archaeology in Honor of Philip J. King. (Pages143-168).) Above the entrance to the shrine a crescent moon with multiple dots is depicted. However, Peter van der Veen comments that Dever's case for this interpretation is not strong and contrary evidence has been raised by W[?]. Zwickel.
The stars of the Pleiades were often associated with Tanit, the Phoenician 'mother earth.'
Astral gods/goddesses were widely established/venerated in ancient Southern Arabia where an astral cult known as Sabaeanism prevailed. The religion of South Arabia was essentially a planetary astral system in which the cult of the moon-god prevailed.
Archaeological evidence supports the existence of early astral
cults in ancient Israel. As well as at Gezer and Megiddo, motifs of stars have
been found at Ugarit and Beth-shan. Anne Jeffers (Magic and Divination in
Ancient Palestine and Syria (1996, Page 154)): "The words designating
stars, moon or sun, or even constellation seem to be part of a common stock of
semitic (sic) words." All this before the Assyrian conquest in the 8th-century
In 732 BCE
The Song of Deborah in Judges 5:20, and the statement in Joshua 10:12c-13c, make an indirect reference (former), and a direct reference (latter), to the belief in the influence/intervention of stars upon human events. Anne Jeffers Magic and Divination in Ancient Palestine and Syria (1996, Page 155)): "The "star worship" mentioned by the Deuteronomist should not be understood as worship of the stars per se, but as evidence that the stars and constellations were studied and that conclusions were drawn from them. The Ugaritic texts certainly attest to such a practice and even list it among the things educated people are supposed to know about."
The period of Assyrian vassalage saw the revival/development of astral cults in Judah. This was accompanied by the building of altars (2 Kings 21:5) and the manufacture of suitable cult objects for the host of heaven (2 Kings 23:4). A reference to the cult of the host of heaven appears in Zephaniah 1:5. (The host of heaven = starry host = the celestial bodies.) Manasseh, king of Judah 697(co-regent with his father until 687)-642 BCE) built altars in Jerusalem for the 'host of heaven' (2 Kings 21:5). People also built rooftop altars. (Cultic practice included burning incense.) There is general agreement that Assyria's imperial astral cult, whether by imposition (obligation) or imitation (assimilation), influenced the development of astral cults in Judah (including star worship). The word mazzālôt (= 'constellations' or perhaps 'planets' (which were worshipped throughout the Near East)) may reflect Assyrian astrological practice. It is indicated that Ahaz (king of Judah, 8th-century BCE) introduced Assyrian astral cult practice. During the reign of Manasseh and Josiah in the 7th-century BCE (of a completely independent Judah) Judah was the submissive ally of Assyria.
That the Pleiades played some part in astral religion in Israel is hinted at by the 8th-century BCE. The Pleiades and Orion (with some other astral bodies) appear to have become objects of worship. According to Peter van der Veen, astral worship (Israelite and Judahite local cult(s)) was mostly limited to the monarchy period only, and originated under the influence of foreign nations (neo-Assyrian period and Babylonian period). He states that astral worship seems especially to have been dominant in Juhadite state worship during the reign of Manasseh (697-642 BCE), who as an Assyrian vassal may well have adopted important elements of the religion of his foreign overlords. (See: van der Veen, Peter. (2008). "The "Seven Dots" on Mesopotamian and Southern Levantine Seals – An Overview." In: Reinhold, Gotthard. (Editor). Die Zahl Sieben Alten Orient: Studien zur Zahlensymbolik in der Bibel und ihrer altorientalischen Umwelt. (Pages 11-22).)
West Semitic religion has been influenced by astral religion. Astral mythology appears in the Old Testament in Isaiah 14:12ff in a fragmentary form; and is based on the Canaanite and Phoenician myth describing the fall of the "Dog Star, Son of Dawn."
Recent Study of the Teleilat el-Ghassul Painting by Andrea Polcaro
Polcaro, Andrea – "The Tuleilat al-Ghassul Star Painting: an Hypothesis of a Solar Calendar in the IV millennium BC." (56 RAI, Time and History in the Ancient Near East, Barcelona, 26th-30th July, 2010)): Abstract: "The study presented in this paper is an analysis of the "Star Painting" in the Late Chalcolithic Tuleilat al-Ghassul site, Jordan. The paintings of this site, first investigated in the '30 by the archaeological mission of Pontifical Biblical Institute and then from the '70 by University of Sidney (sic [Sydney]), has been analyzed in order to understand the complex symbolic value of the represented scenes. The Tuleilat al-Ghassul sacred area, including two temples and a paved avenue leading from the main temple to an open altar, was also analyzed. The result of our considerations point to recognize a solar cult as the fulcrum of the religious life of this pre-urban settlement. Astronomical and History of Art considerations concerning the famous "Star Painting" let us hypothesize that the represented star could be the Sun and the geometrical representation of the solar disk could reflect a precise solar calendar, used by the people of Tuleilat al-Ghassul between the V and the IV millennium BC."
Also, in a recent article Andrea Polcaro makes the tentative identification of the stars of the constellation Orion as the god Dumuzi in the 4th-millennium BCE (Early Bronze Age). See: Polcano, Andrea. (2010). "Jebel Mutawwaq Dolmens: Cult of Ancestors in Eb I Wadi Az-Zarqa Valley." In: Matthiae, Paolo. and Romano, Licia. (Editors). Proceedings of the 6th International Congress of the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, Volume 2. (Pages 553-566).
See also: Polcaro, Andrea. (2014). "Astronomy in the Levant During the Bronze Age and Iron Age." In: Ruggles, Clive. (Editor). Handbook of Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy, Part XI, Pages 1801-1812.
Sara Gardner only identifies 1 figure at Gezer as an astral image. This is the lion figure from circa 1600 BCE onwards which she connects with the stars of our constellation Leo. Sara Gardner does not identify any other drawings at Gezer, such as the drawings of animals (referred to as graffiti) in Cave 30:IV at Gezer, as representations of constellations. (There is a possibility though that additionally the animal graffiti in Cave 30:IV can also be identified as constellations.) Sara Gardner identifies 2 constellation figures at Megiddo from circa 3300 BCE onwards: (1) lion, and (2) harper. Needless to say these constellation identifications are somewhat subjective. There is a possibility if the examples given for constellations are actually late they may have been influenced by Babylonian uranography.
See also: "Scratching the Surface of Astronomy in the Land of the Bible: Archaeology, Texts, and Astronomy." by Sara Gardner In: Current Studies in Archaeoastronomy: Conversations Across Time and Space edited by John Fountain and Rolf Sinclair (2005; Pages 393-411).
Note: See also: Goldfarb, Amanda. (2013). "Reinterpreting Iconography with Astronomy." (Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Volume 50, Pages 215-236). [Abstract: "This paper focuses on Canaanite and Phoenician iconographical depictions of astronomical events. It draws on star mapping programmes that provide new insights into the ancient night sky. It is argued that well-known narratives such as the lion/bull attack, common in the Near East, had astronomical significance. The different depictions of seasonal events - especially those decorating metal bowls - indicate that artefacts bore multivalent iconographies often with clear astronomical associations. Phoenicians and Canaanites practised at least a basic level of observational astronomy, although their mathematical determinations remain conjectural." Likely an extension of her (2012) MA thesis (University of Melbourne), Canaanite and Phoenician Astronomy: From the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age. Abstract: "The Phoenicians and Canaanites were renowned sailors, and have long been hailed as excellent astronomers by ancient writers such as Strabo and Aratus. Owing to their well-known maritime expertise, even today’s scholars assume their knowledge of the night sky to have been great. Yet very little modern study has been dedicated to determining the extent of their astronomical knowledge — were they just observational astronomers, or was there a more mathematical approach undertaken? It is thus the purpose of this thesis to introduce the topic and identify evidence of Canaanite and Phoenician astronomy. Both cultures had pantheons featuring astral gods and a rich mythology known today only through fragments. In order to determine if these astral gods are indicative of Canaanite and Phoenician practices, these pantheons were studied in comparison to contemporary Mesopotamian and Egyptian religions (as they were both known to practise observational astronomy). Ancient calendars were also reviewed, as these could indicate an understanding of the solar versus lunar year. From this assessment, it became clear that many important deities within the Canaanite and Phoenician cultures had astronomical significance — they were associated with planets, constellations and weather phenomena. Furthermore, it appears they had luni-solar calendars, akin to the Mesopotamians, indicating the importance of the moon, rather than the sun, as a time-keeping object. Armed with this knowledge, Canaanite and Phoenician iconography was then examined, in order to determine if well-known narratives, such as the lion/bull attack scenes (common over the Near East), had any possible astronomical significance. After reviewing several differing iconographical narratives, it was determined that there were clear astronomical associations apparent on artefacts with multivalent iconographies. The equinoxes, solstices and even eclipses were represented on bowls and mugs, found from Ugarit through to Italy, crafted by Phoenician and Canaanite tradesmen. While no mathematical approaches could be determined from this study, it was possible to show (rather than hypothesise) that the Phoenicians and Canaanites practised at least a basic level of observational astronomy."]
"The State of Archaeo/ethnoastronomy and the Land of the Bible." by Sara Gardner (Essays From, Archaeoastronomy & Ethnoastronomy News, the Quarterly Bulletin of the Center for Archaeoastronomy, Number 24, September Equinox, 1996).
The use of astronomy by the inhabitants of Palestine has interested scholars as early as the turn of this century, when their examination of biblical texts led them to make comparisons with Greek and Mesopotamian astronomy and mythology. About twenty years later mythological tablets (13th century BCE) were found at Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) on the coast of Syria in 1929. The language and syntax of the Ugaritic tablets are similar to the Bible, and mythological motifs of the Ugaritic texts reflect motifs of biblical and extra-biblical texts. For example, they recorded how the gods influenced the changing seasons, and how the god of the Hebrews created the seasons in Genesis. Extra- biblical texts are used to study the development of Jewish astronomy and its calendar in the second half of the 1st millennium BCE. The list is lengthy, but the Astronomical Books of Enoch should be mentioned. They were written in the 2nd century BCE, and described the heavens as they were perceived by the ancient Jews. The ancient Hebrew literature as well as archaeological artifacts are rich in astral imaging.
Astral images began in the Chalcolithic period (4500-3300 BCE) at Teleilat Ghassul in Jordan near the Jordan River. The Ghassul Star, the image of a luminary rising above the mountains, and a faint image of a rayed sun or star behind a worshiper testify to an understanding of astronomy in this early period. Astral images continued throughout the history of ancient Palestine at many sites such as Hazor where instruments that marked the path of the sun, moon or star were depicted; for example, an altar showed a star image rising above two columns, and a stele showed the moon rising above two arms and hands that were postured as columns. The data collection of astral images from literature and artifacts is extensive, but nonetheless, this information has not been collected into a study on the practice of astronomy and/or its role in society. Nonetheless, these studies are prolific when compared to studies on the relationship between architecture and the movement of the sun, moon, and stars. Research to date has established one site, Rujim el-Hiri (Golan Heights in northern Israel), was built for the primary purpose of marking the June solstice from approximately 3000-2000 BCE, but its potential as an astronomical observatory has not been fully developed (Mizrachi 1993: 112-18).
The primary interest of biblical scholars is to establish a precise orientation of the entrances of temples to the eastern horizon, or to establish that there is not an orientation. Excavators are cavalier in their interpretations, and casually remark that the entrance of cult building or its cult object caught the rays of the rising sun--without any substantiating studies. Unfortunately, excavation records do not consistently record precise directions, either True or magnetic north (see Taylor 1993). While numerous scholars insist that orientation of temples should be studied, these calls have not mentioned what the premise for orientation should be-- beyond an assumption that the cardinal directions are somehow important.
Problems for scholarship exist beyond the collection of data and its interpretation for the land of the Bible, because it conflicts with current religious beliefs. The primary sources for data come from sacred Hebrew and Christian writings--the Torah and the Bible--and from sites mentioned in these texts. Research has in the past--and continues now--to be an exercise in proving that the modern interpretation of the Torah and the Bible is literal and written in stone, so to speak, while a few scholars approach the subject from an academic perspective and not religious. If research in archaeoastronomy in Palestine is to be initiated, it must be from a secular perspective such as Syro-Palestinian archaeology led by William G. Dever (1990). Through the combination of biblical and extra-biblical texts, astral images found on artifacts, archaeology, and astronomy the potential exists to open a new rich field of study for archaeo/ethnoastronomy as well as add another chapter in the history of astronomy.
Dever, W. G., Recent Archaeological Discoveries and Biblical Research, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1990.
Mizrachi, Y., Rujim el-Hiri: Toward an understanding of a Bronze Age megalithic monument in the Levant. diss. Harvard University. Michigan: UMI Dissertation Services, 1993.
Taylor, J. G., Yahweh and the Sun: Biblical and Archaeological Evidence for Sun Worship in Ancient Israel. Sheffield: Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 1993.
The Levant is technically the Eastern Mediterranean region. The Levant is a geographical term referring to the large geographical region bordering the Mediterranean, roughly between Egypt and Anatolia (modern Turkey). The area encompassed lies south of the Taurus Mountains, is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea in the west, the Arabian Desert in the south, and Mesopotamia in the east. (It stretches 400 miles north to south from the Taurus Mountains to the Sinai desert, and 70 to 100 miles east to west between the sea and the Arabian desert.) The term Levant normally does not include Anatolia (although at times Cilicia may be included), the Caucasus Mountains, Mesopotamia or any part of the Arabian Peninsula proper. The Sinai Peninsula is sometimes included.
The Levant has a record of continuous human existence beginning circa 90,000 BCE. Neanderthals are known to have lived in the Levant. Agriculture is first attested during the Neolithic Age (10,000–4300 BCE). During the Chalcolithic Age (4300–3300 BCE) people occupying the Levant became urbanized and lived in city-states, including Jericho. Some of the world's earliest known cities were established in the Levant.
During the Uruk phase, colonists and traders from Southern Iraq established important quarters in settlements throughout the northern part of the Levantine region (e.g. Amuq). The East Semitic Akkadians living on the Arabic peninsula north of the Sumerian city-states invaded the lower Mesopotamian valley under Sargon I and established their supremacy over the Sumerians, and extended their control into Syria as far as the coast.
The area's location at the center of routes linking three continents made it the meeting place for religious and cultural influences from Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor.
The Sumerian term mul.mul "The Stars" (= Pleiades) occurs in a Sumerian-Eblaite list as an equivalent of the Eblaite term mul ka-ma-tu "The Family." Four more entries in lexical lists from may be names for stars in Sumerian. (Of the 15,000 tablets recovered from Ebla approximately 80% are written in Sumerian. The date of the tablets is circa 2250 BCE.)
Also, the astral god kakkab was worshipped at Ebla.
During the 3rd-millennium BCE the city of Ebla in Syria was the third ranking civilization centre in the Near East. The 2 two higher ranking civilization centres were Mesopotamia (Bilad al-Rafidayn, the cradle of civilisation) and Pharaonic Egypt.
During the Late Bronze Age (circa 1375-1175 BCE) in Syria (at least in Emar, a town on the Syrian Euphrates) the transmission of Babylonian/Assyrian scholarship was enabled through the activities of diviners, who acted as high-ranking scribes and cultic functionaries. This was undoubtedly a means for communicating the astral sciences also. See the discussion of the cuneiform tablet evidence in: Bodies of Knowledge in Ancient Mesopotamia: The Diviners of Late Bronze Age Emar and their Tablet Collection by Matthew Rutz (2013).
Recent (2010) archaeological finds in the northern Jordan Valley indicate that the ancient site of Pella was a formidable city-state and urbanised (a massive mega-city) circa 3600 BCE until civilisation there abruptly stopped circa 2800 BCE (due to possibly a devastating earthquake and climate change).
Lions depicted on early Bronze Age bowl recovered from Gyumri, Armenia.
Abstract of paper "The Tuleilat al-Ghassul Star Painting: an (sic) Hypothesis of a Solar Calendar in the IV millennium BC." presented by Andrea Polcaro, at the 56 Reconcontre Assyriologique Internationale, Barcelona, Time and History in the Ancient Near East, 26th-30th July, 2010: "The study presented in this paper is an analysis of the "Star Painting" in the Late Chalcolithic Tuleilat al-Ghassul site, Jordan. The paintings of this site, first investigated in the '30s by the archaeological mission of Pontifical Biblical Institute and then from the '70s by University of Sydney, has been analyzed in order to understand the complex symbolic value of the represented scenes. The Tuleilat al-Ghassul sacred area, including two temples and a paved avenue leading from the main temple to an open altar, was also analyzed. The result of our considerations point to recognize a solar cult as the fulcrum of the religious life of this pre-urban settlement. Astronomical and History of Art considerations concerning the famous "Star Painting" let us hypothesize that the represented star could be the Sun and the geometrical representation of the solar disk could reflect a precise solar calendar, used by the people of Tuleilat al-Ghassul between the V and the IV millennium BC."
See: Polcaro, Andrea. (2010). "The Tuleilat al-Ghassul Star Painting: A Hypothesis Regarding a Solar Calendar from the Fourth Millennium B.C." In: Feliu, L. et. al. (Editors). Time and History in the Ancient Near East. Proceedings of the 56th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale at Barcelona 26–30 July 2010. (Pages 273-284).
See also: Polcaro, Andrea. (2014). "Astronomy in the Levant During the Bronze Age and Iron Age." In: Ruggles, Clive. (Editor). Handbook of Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy, Part XI, Pages 1801-1812.
Aerial view of Rujm el-Hiri
The site, known as Rujm el-Hiri ("the stone heap of the wild cat"), or more recently, Gilgal Refa'im (Hebrew for "Wheel of Giants", referring to a biblical race of giants), was first discovered just northeast of the Sea of Galilee in the Golan Heights area of Israel during an archaeological survey conducted in 1967-1968 after the Six-Day War. Following the survey, full-scale archaeological excavations were carried out from 1989 to 1992 by Moshe Kochavi and Yonathan Mizrachi through the Land of Geshur Project of Tel Aviv University's Institute of Archaeology.
Rujm el-Hiri (also, Rujm Hiri and Rujum al-Hiri) an Arabic word meaning 'stone heap of the wild cat' is the enormous ruin (under reconstruction) of a Megalithic site/monument comprising a series of 4, 5 (or 9, depending on how counted) approximate concentric stone circles with a tumulus (artificial burial mound) at the centre. It has been identified as a ceremonial complex. It is located 515 metres above sea level on the Golan Heights approximately 16 kilometres (10 miles) from the Sea of Galilee, Syria. Based on the few artifacts recovered it has been dated to circa 3000 BCE (Late Chalcolithic or Early Bronze Age). The function of Rujm el-Hiri is not known. One theory is it served as a landmark for a mortuary cult associated with an important leader or religious figure. The paucity of artifacts recovered indicates the site was not used as either a residence or as a storage facility.
The concentric circles are constructed from an estimated 42000 rocks/stones (uncut, black volcanic basalt, field stones); piled and wedged into place. The outermost circle is 150 metres (490 feet) in diameter (measured north-south). (Note: Other measurements given are 155 metres (500 feet) north-south.) The walls are between 3.2-3.3 metres (10.5-10.8 feet) thick, and in places reach 2.5 metres (8 feet) in height. (Note: Other measurements given are the walls reach a height of 2 metres (6 feet) in places.) Some of the rings are connected by a series of 36 apparently randomly spaced spoke-like walls, which comprise chambers. The central burial mound, built 1000-1500 years after the construction of the rings (the Late Bronze Age of the late 2nd millennium BCE) is an irregular stone heap measuring some 20-25 metres (65-80 feet) in diameter and 4.5-5 metres (15-16 feet) in height. There are 2 wide access ways, blocked by fallen boulders, (northeastern opening about 29 metres (95 feet) wide; southeastern opening about 26 metres (85 feet) wide.) into the rings.
The circular structure was built with dimensions and scales common for other structures of the period. It is indicated it was – at least in part – built for an astronomical purpose. Research indicates the structure is partly based on the positions of stars. It has been suggested the site was used for observations of stars/constellations for aiding religious calculations. After lengthy studies beginning in the late 1980s, Yonathan Mizrachi and Anthony Aveni proposed the structure could have served an astronomical purpose. Their investigations have shown the entrance way to the center is aligned to the summer solstice. Notches in the walls suggest the spring and fall equinoxes are indicated. Calculations for when the proposed astronomical alignments would have matched stars gives further support for the construction of the rings being dated to circa 3000 BCE. If the wall notches pointed to star-risings they may have been a method for predicting the rainy season (important for pastoralists herding livestock, with concerns for pasture/forage and water).
Abstract: Aveni, Anthony. And Yonathan, Mizrachi. (1998). "The Geometry and Astronomy of Rujm el-Hiri: a Megalithic Site in the Southern Levant." (Journal of Field Archaeology, Volume 25, Number 4, Pages 475-496).: "Research at Rujm el-Hiri, a Bronze Age megalithic monument in the southern Levant provides a broad insight into two episodes in the prehistory of the Levant—the construction and usage of the Early Bronze Age (EBA) ceremonial complex, and the erection of a cairn at the center of the monument some 1500 years later. (The last use of Rujm el-Hiri was no later than 1500-1200 BCE (the Late Bronze Age).) Excavations in 1988–1991 provide information on Rujm el-Hiri's geometry, alignment associations between the architecture of the complex and celestial bodies and events, physical elements in the landscape, and local ecology-related phenomena. We also examine the significance of timekeeping and its implications for the agricultural calendar and cosmological domains of the local cultures. Data drawn from archaeological, astronomical, ethnohistorical, and biblical sources reveal the sophistication of the 3rd millennium B.C. construction phase of the Rujm el-Hiri complex. Among the finds reported are the systematic use of a measuring unit to construct the site; the establishment of an accurate alignment system for both celestial and non-celestial elements in the landscape; the organization of an orientation calendar as a basis for economic activities; and the hints of a rich cosmology. Overall, our study of the Rujm el-Hiri megalithic phenomena reveals a level of cultural complexity not previously documented in the Levant of the 3rd millennium B.C."
A recent theory by Dr. Rami Arav attempts to take into account the archaeological evidence at the site and also the cultural contexts of ancient Chalcolithic practices and the surrounding Chalcolithic archaeological sites. In an article published in the Biblical Archaeology Review (November/December, 2011), Dr. Rami Arav, long-time co-director of the Bethsaida excavations northeast of the coast of the Sea of Galilee and Professor of Religion and Philosophy at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, proposed that the site was built for both funerary purposes and as a means for "excarnation," the removal of flesh from the bones of the deceased for placement in ossuaries, or bone boxes, by the ancient Chalcolithic inhabitants of the area.
Numerous interpretations have been proposed for the functions of the enigmatic tower and wall (dating to circa 8300 BCE) at Early Neolithic Jericho. They comprise the oldest known monumental structures. One explanation proposes they comprise a cultic (a ritual precinct and/or astronomical device). Ran Barkai and Roy Liran propose the Jericho tower is aligned to celestial (the summer solstice sunset; and helped to keep a calendar when agriculture was beginning to be introduced) and geographical elements (i.e., the Mount Quruntul peak some 1300 metres to the west, and rising 350 metres above sea level), and was used by its builders as a link between the town and the universe. The Jericho tower rises to a height of 8.25 metres from its base and has a base diameter of approximately 9 metres and a top diameter of approximately 7 metres. The Jericho tower is hollow and inside is an enclosed stairway (comprising a climbing system for the builders). As an astronomical instrument (if this is the correct interpretation) it enabled Mount Quruntul and the setting sun to be revered by a single 'instrument.' (See: "Midsummer Sunset at Neolithic Jericho." by Ran Barkai and Roy Liran (Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture, Volume 1, Issue 3, November, 2008, Pages 273-284).)
Sara Gardner (personal communication, 27 April 2001): "There is a Ugaritic text ... that I think hasn't been properly translated, "The Serpent Charms of Ugarit" by Stephen Brown (1974). I believe that this text is a division of the sky with stars (gods) listed in each division. Baal and Anat are in the list. Since I don't have any background in languages, I am at loss the translate. ...."
Some recent articles/books dealing with early Canaanite astral mythology and astral worship include:
Holladay, Junior., John. (1968). "The Day(s) the Moon Stood Still." (Journal of Biblical Literature, Volume 87, Number 2, June, Pages 166-178).
Stähli, Hans-Peter. (1985). Solare Elemente im Jahwesglauben des Alten Testaments.
Zatelli, Ida. (1991). "Astrology and Worship of Stars in the Hebrew Bible." (Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, Band 103, Pages 86-99).
Lowery, Richard. (1991). The Reforming Kings: Cults and Society in First Temple Judah.
Taylor, J[?]. (1993). Yahweh and the Sun. Biblical and Archaeological Evidence for Sun Worship in Ancient Israel.
Jeffers, Ann. (1996). Magic and Divination in Ancient Palestine and Syria.
Dijkstra, Meindert. (1998). "Astral Myth of the Birth of Shahar and Shalim (KTU 1.23)." In: Dietrich, Manfred. and Kottsieper, Ingo. (Editors). "Und Moses shrieb dieses Lied auf" Studien zum Alten Testament und zum Alten Orient. (Pages 265-287).
Theuer, G[?]. (2000). Der Mondgott in der Relionen Syrien-Palästinas unterbesonderer Berücksichtigung von KTU 1.24.
Smith, Mark. (2003). "Astral Religion and the Representation of Divinity: The Cases of Ugarit and Judah." In: Noegel, S., Walker, J., and Wheeler, B. (Editors). Prayer, Magic and the Stars in the Ancient and Late Antique World. (Pages 187-206).
Smith, Mark. (2003). "When the Heavens Darkened: Yahweh, El and the Divine Astral Family in Iron Age II Judah." In: Dever, William. and Gitin, Seymour. (Editors). Symbiosis, Symbolism, and the Power of the Past. (Pages 265-277).
Jeffers, Ann. (2007). "Magic and Divination in Ancient Israel." (Religion Compass, Volume 1, Number 6, November, Pages 628-642).
van der Veen, Peter. (2008). "The Seven Dots on Mesopotamian and Southern Levantine Seals - An Overview." In: Reinhold, Gotthard. (Editor). Die Zahl Sieben in Alten Orient: The Number Seven in the Ancient Near East. (Pages 11-22). [Note: Discusses archaeological evidence for the practice of astral worship in the Levant and Mesopotamia.]
Cooley, Jeffrey. (2011). "Astral Religion in Ugarit and Ancient Israel." (Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Volume 70, Number 2, Pages 281-287).
Cooley, Jeffrey. (2012). "Celestial Divination in Ugarit and Ancient Israel: A Reassessment." (Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Volume 71, Number 1, April, Pages 21-30).
Biennial History of Astronomy Workshop - Notre Dame X, July 6-10, 2011. Morgan Saletta, Melbourne University (Presentation): "The Functional Equinoctial Alignment of the Arles-Fontvieille Monuments: The Equinoctial Hierophany, the Pleiades, and Orion."
Abstract: "Based on my ongoing research into the sites, I will present evidence of a functional solar equinoxal alignment of the Arles/Fontvieille monuments. I will also suggest a probable association with the Pleiades and the constellation of Orion of at least one of the sites. The talk will present evidence for both claims, including photographic documentation of a functional and hitherto undocumented purpose of the astronomical alignment of the sites. The functional nature of the equinoctial alignment can presently be demonstrated for three of the five sites.
The large and impressive Neolithic monuments of Arles/Fontvieille appear to have been at the center of a major local megalithic culture that extended its influence over the local territory as evidenced in the orientation of megalithic monuments of the surrounding area. These monuments, frequently termed hypogées, are some of the largest, most impressive, and probably among the most important Neolithic monuments in France and Europe.
These subterranean monuments are aligned on an east/west axis, opening on the west. It will be proposed that these monuments have a functional astronomical alignment to the equinox sunset such that a large shaft of sunlight penetrates the long passage and strikes the back wall, producing a striking hierophany. There is a spectacular display of illumination in the one site whose opening is unobscured by plant growth and is visibly present at two of the others. Unlike the so-called passage tombs or passage mounds of the British Isles, Ireland, and Brittany, the Arles/Fontvieille monuments are subterranean, and it is not at all obvious that it would be possible for the sun rays to penetrate these passages or hypogées at all, at least to any depth, let alone to their entire length as documented by the author.
While the east/west orientation of the monuments has been noted by several authors as being toward the setting equinox sun, and recently researchers have highlighted this unusual orientation within the context of European and Mediterranean megalithic orientations, the possible functional (in terms of producing a hierophany) nature of this alignment seems to have been entirely ignored for a number of reasons, including the difficulty of access to all but one of the sites.It is my contention that in order to understand the place of these important monuments within the European Neolithic, the discovery of a functional phenomenon of the astronomical alignment of these sites is of fundamental importance. It may shed light on the relationship of these sites to other European monuments as well as indicating the need for similar investigations of sites where such phenomenon may have been overlooked in the past. To this purpose these sites need to be examined within a large geographical context and within an analysis of the way cosmological knowledge, ritual practice, belief, and social power were constructed into the landscape and territory in the form of these monuments."
[I am indebted to the American archaeoastronomer Dr Sara L. Gardner for corrections concerning her ideas, clarification regarding dating issues, and for generously providing me with a copy of her 2002 doctoral thesis. In early September 2009 Sara Gardner kindly sent me a corrective e-mail and copy of her doctoral thesis. This has enabled a number of significant corrections and clarifications not possible when I was relying on secondary sources and (at January 2007) my 4-5 year old recollections of Sara Gardner's work that she had discussed with me. In all about 12 corrections have been made. I will expand this topic and better clarify some issues mentioned above when I have time to closely read her doctoral thesis.]
Copyright © 2007-2016 by Gary D. Thompson
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