In December 2014 me and a college visited the ancient petroglyph site of Ait Ouazik in Southern Morocco. Our visit was a casual day activity part of our stargazing trip to Morocco.
But as I explain in my previous article on the subject (http://linksthroughspace.blogspot.fi/2015/03/archeoastronomy-5000-years-old.html), this ancient site became much more then a touristic visit. It became the center of a research on the origins of astronomy. The research lasted from Dec. 2014 to Jan. 2016.
This article relates my research linking astronomy to the ancient petroglyph sites i visited, which are Ait Ouazik, Southern Morocco and Oukaimeden, Atlas mountains, Morocco.
|Geographical location of the rock art sites in Morocco.|
Ait Ouazik, Sahara desert, Morocco and Oukaimeden, Atlas mountains, Morocco.
This year (January 2016) I returned to the village of Ait Ouazik to further my research linking astronomy to the rock art of that region. I also visited an another prehistoric rock art site situated roughly 250 kilometers from the studied site of Ait Ouazik and added to my research the possibility that this site too would have been also connected to astronomy. This site is called Oukaimeden and is located in the Atlas mountains in the region of Oukaimeden, Morocco a present day ski resort and home to an modern astronomical observatory. I went to investigate if on both sites the rock art found there had a connection to astronomy.
|From right to left: Ali, Mohamed, Iikka, Omar, Ali again and me (Stefan).|
Those present in the expedition were The Guide (Mohamed), Astronomy club Marrakesh 3AM Pres. (Ali), The blacksmith (Iikka) and me from Astronomy Club Kustavi, Finland (Stefan).
I want to thank the local guides at both sites: Ait Ouazik and Oukaimeden. Also a big thank you to Sahara sky owner (Fritz) and it's crew for the hospitality and the moral support.
First of all, Rock art is also called petroglyph. The word petroglyph is made of two words: Petro wich means rock and Glyph wich means inscription. So petroglyph means ”Rock inscription”.
Prehistoric rock art site: Ait Ouazik
This 5000 - 8000 years old (3000 - 6000BC) prehistoric rock art site in Southern Morocco called Ait Ouazik is full of rocks with carved inscriptions on them. These rock carvings are the remains of an ancient people living in this region at that time. Rock carvings showing us a totally different environment than the arid dry Sahara of present day. On these rocks you will find animals of the Savanna such as Gazelles, Ostriches, rhinos and elephants. Also you will find intricate interlace lines and circular patterns, which are out of place and unknown.
In my research i observed the petroglyphs and speculate on a possible connection to astronomy. Even though the site of Ait Ouazik and Oukaimeden has been fairly studied, the studies do not seem to be concentrated on connecting the sites with astronomy.
My research was to see if the rock carvings could have a connection to astronomy.
The results are some what stunning and surprising. I might just have found evidence that these sites where connected to astronomy.
Ait Ouazik and the cyclical path of the seasons
The village of Ait Ouazik these days is a quiet, recluse village on the slopes of beautiful surrounding mountains. But in the days of our ancient ancestors, i believe it to be a ”pit stop” on the way the nomad hunters travelled to follow prey animals.
The conventional thinking says, that the people living in these regions and in that time (6000-3000BC) were nomad hunter-gatherers that lived out of hunting animals and gathering on the way supplement food for survival. I don't dispute this argument. In fact, i add to it that these people were part nomad hunter-gatherer part sedentary people having a cyclical way of life.
|Cyclical way of life for ancient nomad-hunter-gatherer-sedentary people.|
Ait Ouazik was probably a "pit stop" on the way.
There were young men who went to hunt and followed the animals on their pasturage year round. There were also a sedentary community of elders, women and children who stood still, waiting for the men to return with supplies (meat). These places such as Ait Ouazik, where on the path of the cyclical trail the nomad hunters borrowed making them part of the cycle.
The animals were travelling enormous circles in the region searching for greener grass to graze. The seasons provided these animals with the ”food” they needed in some parts of the cyclical journey they travelled, only to return on their original grazing grounds near Ait Ouazik. As the young hunters left to follow and chase the animals, the hunters would also returned to Ait Ouazik from where they started from, completing the circle.
Who are these elders and why are they sedentary?
First of, the elders were probably hunters in their young age, who followed the animals to get food to feed the community they where part of. But these men became old and were unable to continue to chase the animals in these seasonal long hunts. So they stood still in one location along the paths the young hunters took and waited for their return. These elders were in a sense the sages of the community. With many years of experience in hunting, they probably understood the importance of transmitting the knowledge of hunting to next generations. This knowledge was probably transmitted orally, but somehow changed to be inscribe on rocks. As the seasons past at the sedentary location (we will call it village from now on), the elders assisted by the women and children of the village started to dedicate their time to fashion inscriptions on rock. The elder(s) would have chosen what to carve and the apprentices women and children would have been his manual laborers, which would have done the rock carvings. In evidence on the rocks found at Ait Ouazik rock art site, the elders would have emphasized on animal pictogram to educate the children on what to hunt. Ways to hunt them are also found at the site such as petroglyph of traps and nets (Searight 2001. p.72). In a sense these rock carvings were part of a school for later generations to study and learn from. Provided by the elders, the rock art would have been books to study and learn to assure their survival.
|Practise boulder at rock art site Ait Ouazik.|
The women and children would have practise carving, pecking and more.
What use is it to stay at one location?
To stay at one location gives one the sense of being at the center of the Universe. Astronomically speaking, to observe the night sky or the Sun at one given place guaranties us always the same result. We can trust that whatever events happens in the sky will be repeated in the forgoing observations. In essence this is the goal of the observers in our time and in theirs, to collect observations from a steady place throughout the years and find a recurrent cycle to understand and lean on.
I believe that the elders by staying at one location, started to look at the Sun, Moon, planets and stars and recognize motion patterns night after night, season after season and year after year. To stay put at one location gave them the opportunity to study the heavens in detail. It seems to me incredible that all these rock carvings would have only been for the benefit of hunters in a pre-dawn agricultural settlement. It seems to me that the cyclical passage of seasons and the cyclical route that the animals took followed by the hunters, would have arose the curiosity of cyclical motions of the night sky as well. Hence the elders to comprehend the cyclical path of the hunt brought them the knowledge of a cyclical "path" motion of the heavens. To engrave it in stone to be thought to future generations seemed to be crucial and of the most importance for these ancient people.
|Color coded landscape of the prehistoric school with Standing stone, Tumulus and boulders around it.|
Astronomical evidences on site
Do we find evidence of rock carvings at the site that could indicate a connection to astronomy?
Yes we do.
The rock art boulder direction. The motion of the night sky is concentrated to the South, The meridian.
Petroglyphs pointing to significant orientations of significant periods of the year, such as Solstices and Equinoxes.
We find many spiral-like glyphs that are out of place in the context of the site representing perhaps infinity (Von Hoek 2015). The concept of infinity is not far from the concept of cyclical cycles .
A Standing stone align with the background landscape to record important dates. The horizon align with the Standing stone offers tantalizing evidence of astronomy.
We find also two round ”spoke wheel” shape rock carvings indicating perhaps an astronomical calendar. These two "spoke wheel" petroglyphs are at the center of my research to link the ancient people of Ait Ouazik with the knowledge of astronomy. I argue that these "spoke wheel" rock carvings could have been some sort of astronomical calendars keeping important times of the year and/or probably longer calendrical counts important to these ancient people.
These are just a few evidences mentioned in a nutshell. You will find below a description in details of some of these evidences and more. Keep on reading.
The crossing of the meridian
Every rock/boulder containing carvings on the site are all on the Southern side of the slopes they stand in. This is confirmed by the local guides i met on the site of Ait Ouazik in southern Morocco and and as well of Oukaimeden in the Atlas mountains. This gives a clue to astronomical implications, because the motion of the heavens is concentrated on the Southern direction of the sky. The motion of the night sky starts from the East, passes at the meridian (South) and finishes in the West only to return the next night. In the case of the Sun, the next morning. The fact that the rocks/boulders are "pointing" south could tell us of a direction to look at the petroglyph on the rock/boulder. No rock/boulders with engravings has been found on the north side of the slope.
|Sun crossing the meridian (South) at Ait Ouazik, Morocco.|
Dagger petroglyphs orientated to Solstices and Equinoxes
Another clue to an astronomical connection is that on the site of Oukaimeden in the Atlas mountains in the North, we find petroglyphs of daggers that possibly matches the direction of the Spring/Fall Equinoxes of that time. I took the initiative to mark the "dagger" petroglyphs with a compass to indicate the orientation of the petroglyph. I had a lead from researcher Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez who had studied the astronomical implications and orientations of prehistoric paintings and rock carvings of the caves in France including the Lascaux cave.
For ancient people living in these rugged terrains, the daggers aligning with the rising or setting Sun meant changes for the community. Important markers that defined the year or even more longer periods of time important to know.
|Daggers found at Oukaimeden orientating to equinoxes and solctices.|
The compass gives a good idea of the orientation these daggers points to.
We find at Ait Ouazik a Standing stone on top of a tumulus surrounded by broken off boulders engraved with petroglyphs. This standing stone resembles the small erected uneven stones we find at the local cemetery of the present day Ait Ouazik. This Menhir ( Standing stone) is a headstone of some sort, perhaps even one of the elder. of the prehistoric Ait Ouazik. The standing stone on top of the tumulus found at Ait Ouazik is located in the midst of the boulders engraved with petroglyphs, sending a message that the funeral mound was of the teacher resting beside his teachings. The orientation of the stone can reveal alignments with the surrounding landscape for important markers to identify crucial dates during the year.
|Standing stone (Southward face) at Ait Ouazik, Sahara desert, Morocco.|
Landscape astronomy and the local Standing stone
My research on the field brought me to think that there could be some connection with the surrounding landscape and the astronomical events occurring. The pointy mountain tops and the depressions at a far in the surrounding mountains could have had a connection with the orientation of the standing stone at the site. An inscription carved on the standing stone points to a Southern direction, implying a connection to the meridian (The direction that the Sun takes to cross the sky), hence a connection to astronomy.
Photography's I took of the East side face and the West side face of the standing stone with the mountains in the background revealed to me an equinoctial orientation and a solstice orientation. This standing stone would have been erected to be used after the death of the elder as an astronomical marker. Maybe indicating with the rising or setting of the Sun on the Spring equinox or the Summer solstice, the exact date this stone was erected.
On each occasion in the direction of East and West I have found correlations with the orientation of the side of the standing stone and the rising of the Sun between a specific bowl shaped ridge in the background mountains. A Summer solstice alignment with the setting Sun in the west within the lowest point between two mountains in the background give a precise location of Summer Solstice setting Sun of that time. Easily recognizable year after year within the community living there. Precise spots in the background mountains viewed from "behind" the eastern or western side of the Standing stone indicated important position of the Sun to record cyclical beginnings or endings.
I argue that if you find astronomically connected rock art such as the spoke wheel petroglyps and an astronomical orientated man erected stone ( Standing stone) within these sites, It is fairly indicative of a connection to astronomy. Hence the elder was maybe an ancient hunter, but he surely became one of the first astronomers to live in these part of the world. This erected stone is his testament for future generation. To continue teaching his knowledge of astronomy, which was probably the new way to survive.
|Standing stone (Menhir) with background hill at Ait Ouazik, SAhara desert, Morocco.|
Dating the site using astronomical observations
Archaeological sites around the world like Ait Ouazik and Oukaimeiden are dated using carbon 14 dating methods. Looking for organic material at the site such as human bones, fire pits (ancient wood) or even pottery can determine the age of the site. Archaeoastronomy uses a different method. It uses the position of the Sun in relation with features in the landscape. As I mentioned earlier, the standing stone and the surrounding landscape act as the alignment to date astronomically the site.
As you can see in the photo below, the Standing stone and the landscape in the background coincide with rising/settings of the Sun. By using a sky map software on my computer, I work the time backwards to fit a time where the bearings of the standing stone and the background landscape (in this case the depression in form of a bowl in the mountain) would align. I noticed that the Sunrise at Spring Equinox rises straight out of the depression in the mountain c.4500 BC. Another alignment in the west, indicates a setting Sun at Summer Solstice straight between the two hills in the back ground c.4030 BC. Hence dating the site astronomically would give us a more precise age of 4500-4030BC and not the conventional 3000-6000BC proposed by researchers studying the sites.
|Looking Eastward. Rising Sun. Alignment with Standing stone and Background mountain|
(in this case a bowl shape depression in the mountain) on Spring Equinox 4500BC.
|Looking Westward. Setting Sun. Alignment with Standing stone and background hills|
(in this case where two hills meet) on the Summer solstice 4030BC
The Standing stone Inscription and Eclipses
The Standing Stone found at the site of Ait Ouazik has an inscription on the South side face. The inscription carved on the south face of the standing stone consists of 3 circles within each other. 3 circles within each other going from a large circle to a medium circle to a small circle. These 3 circles within each other implies a reunion of the 3 celestial bodies we know that forms the Sun, the Moon and the Earth. It could represent a solar eclipse, a lunar eclipse or even represent the knowledge of the interaction of these celestial bodies getting together. A suggestion that the elder buried here had the knowledge of eclipses is not far fetch assuming the evidences found on site linking to astronomy is to be true. The people who buried him associated him with this knowledge of eclipses and astronomy. In nature nothing is perfectly round, but yet we find evidence of circles in form of carvings on the stone. The only circle men would have known would have been the regular everyday shape of the Sun, the shape of the Full Moon and surely round points of light known as planets/ or stars.
|3x Standing stone to see the circles as an epitaph.|
These 3 circles are representative of Eclipses, as the elder buried here had knowledge of astronomy.
|Standing stone with circle (3) markings found|
at Ait Ouazik, Sahara desert, Morocco.
Infinity and cyclical motion of the sky
The researcher Marteen Von Hoek, who has visited and studied many petroglyph sites around the world, including the rock art site of Ait Ouazik, writes about a knowledge the people of Ait Ouazik would have had. The knowledge of infinity (Von Hoek 2015. http://www.rupestre.net/tracce/?p=9038).
If these ancient people had a concept of infinity, that knowledge of an eternal cycle could be closely related to the cyclical motion of the night sky or the motion of the Sun. Would the knowledge of infinity bring the ancient people closer to an understanding of the cyclical motion of the night sky? Or would the knowledge of cyclical motion of the night sky (astronomical knowing) bring them closer to an understanding of Infinity? In ether cases, they bring together the knowledge of cyclical events that could have lead to astronomical knowledge.
With all the evidence gathered so far with the horizon alignments, the crossing of the meridian and the astronomical orientations, we still find more compelling astronomical evidence in inscriptions such as the circle inscriptions on the Standing stone and the notion of infinity to back up a solid astronomical connection.
|A spiral carving found on a boulder close to the Standing stone|
at Ait Ouazik. Maybe representing the concept of infinity.
In the making: Cupules and Indigenous Henna
It seems crucial to the ancient people of Ait Ouazik that they used cupules to aid in their petroglyph making. A cupule in archaeology terms means: a circular man-made hollow cup on the surface of a rock or a rock slab. You will find on the same boulders, petroglyphs and cupules paired together. In these cupules is where they would have poured a mix of water and henna to draw the intended petroglyph to be before carving it. Henna is grown to this day in Morocco even in the arid Sahara. It was probably so from the last Ice age (Catherine Cartwright-Jones 2006. P.5). Henna could have been grown in the prehistory as well. They would have first sketched the motif on the rock with henna and then carved the petroglyph. This would have given them steadiness and precision we see off the motifs carved on the rocks. In doing so, they could ensure an accurate description of what was intended to be explained and keep it accurate for a very long time through the generation. The information in a way didn't degrade with years or even millenias.
|Cupule paired with it's petroglyph on boulder.|
Used as a liquid holder to sketch the carvings on the rock.
Ait Ouazik, Morocco.
Astronomical uses for the Cupules
Cupules could have been used in an astronomical context. Cupules filled with water could have caught a glimpse of a reflexion of an astronomical body, such as the Moon, planets or stars and turn the cupule paired with it's respective petroglyph into a calendarical rock used to define certain periods of time.
|Spoke wheel no.1. Round shape carving depicting an astronomical calendar (with cupule at top).|
Petroglyph found at Ait Ouazik, Morocco.
This leads to the hypothesis of reflecting "water-gazing" for observational and calendrical purposes. These cupules could have been filled with water (after the petroglyph had been made) and used as celestial body markers. The reflexion of an astronomical object in the shallow cupule would have gave a starting point for the petroglyph associated with the cupule (usually the petroglyph and the cupule would have been on the same rock).
For example, the planet Venus could have been reflected in water that was poured in the shallow cupule next to the petroglyph. In this case, the spoke wheel petroglyph (Spoke wheel no.1) near the Standing stone area. This spoke wheel etched into rock would have been the clock of Venus in this case. A way to follow the motion of this celestial body and make a record of it.
Also in the case of Spoke wheel bowl petroglyph (Spoke wheel no.2) found a couple of kilometers away from the central Standing stone area would have been also an observing rock. The details of the carving of Spoke wheel no.1 and Spoke wheel no.2 varies from one and other, but are very similar at the same time. They are both used to record celestial events even though they are a bit different in appearance.
|Drawings of both Spoke wheel carvings found at Ait Ouazik, Morocco.|
Different, but at the same time very similar.
The big difference with these two target petroglyphs is that Spoke wheel no.2 is etched inside a bowl like shape carving (Dimensions: 10 cm deep, 30 cm circumference). What is even more compelling is that this spoke wheel no.2 petroglyph found at the bottom of this bowl is begging to be connected with water reflexion observations.
|Spoke Wheel no.2. Fisheye view of the boulder and petroglyph.|
Background: Iikka, Hamzed and Ali.
|Spoke wheel no.2 carving inside a bowl shape carving|
carved into a boulder. This was used for observation of the night sky
and record important celestial events using the bowl, water and the petroglyph at the bottom of the bowl.
Cupules transformed into astronomical bowls
Cupules are generally shallow depressions found next to the petroglyphs at Ait Ouazik. These cupules are small in size and do not incorporate inscriptions within the cupules. Only one petroglyph is found to be inside a deeper cupule, in fact more like a bowl. The petroglyph in question is "spoke wheel no.2". Inside a deep cupule, a bowl, you find this round concentrical "spoke wheel" shape carving. This is very peculiar for a petroglyph to be found at the "bottom" of a man made spherical bowl shape "Cupule".
To me this indicates that the ancient observers had created an astronomical tool. An astronomical tool incorporating the spoke wheel no.2 petroglyph at the bottom of the bowl, the bowl-like cupule permitting water to be poured in and the orientation of the rock in relation to the meridian.
To use this tool, water would have been poured into the bowl to permit reflection of the celestial object and therefore use the spoke wheel petroglyph at the bottom of that pool of water as a clock to follow the planet's motion. Indicating a specific starting or finishing time of an astronomical cycle.
Further more, the boulder with the petroglyph spoke wheel no.2 is found 2 kilometers from the central Standing stone area of Ait Ouazik. Defining it as a dark spot observation point, to conduct fine observations without the "light" pollution of fires and smoke near the habitable zone of ancient Ait Ouazik.
|Me and the Spoke wheel no.2 petroglyph. 2 km. off the site of Ait Ouazik Standing stone.|
Isolated boulder indicating a observation point far from camp fire
and smoke of the habited site of Ait Ouazik Standing stone site.
In conclusion, the prehistoric sites in both locations were fascinating. Even more when you see them through archaeoastronomy eyes. My purpose was to link the sites to astronomy and with the large amount of evidences I found there. I am confident that these ancient ancestors at these sites had a connection to the heavens. They really had the knowledge of astronomy and practised it in every day life. My research is done for now, but it seems far from being over as more sites around the world are uncovered. Ancient sites, revealing ancient astronomy that helped ancient people to survive up to this day. A connection between our ancestors and astronomy, leading the knowledge of astronomy to today.
Continue reading the next article in the series.
Echoes of Archaeoastronomy: 3/4 My Backyard is the Center of the Universe. Ancient observation techniques at my own Astronomical Observatory in Kustavi, Finland.
Please take time to read more on the subject.