Celestial Maps of Gegham Mountain: The Unique Rock Art of Armenia
In the volcanic Gegham and Vardenis Mountains of Armenia, architect Suren Petrosyan discovered unique and mysterious astrological rock art paintings.
Experts have different opinions on the creation chronology of the rock art paintings found in the basin of Lake Sevan and along the slopes of Mount Aragats. Some think these rock art paintings were created in the third to second millennium BC, others claim about the fifth to fourth millennium BC, and there are researchers who date them to 10th millennium BC. It is not surprising, since the study and chronology of rock art paintings is very difficult.
The dramatic volcanic landscape of the Gegham Mountains, Armenia (MEDIACRAT, CC BY-SA 3.0 )
However, there is no doubt that these rock art paintings illustrating stellar maps have thousands of years’ history.
When you visit the mountains where these astrological paintings—some made with a natural paint made of red volcanic mineral, others carved into the rock—have been created, immediately you notice the wide skies which seem almost too close to the Earth. The starry sky is especially clear and bright, which inspires one to go back to the past and for a moment to appear beside our ancestors, and see how they saw.
And at a time when there were no magnifying devices, the fact that the Armenian Highland is high enough above sea level (1700 to 1800 meters, or 5577 to 5905 feet), and about 500 to 600 meters (1600 to 2000 feet) high from the neighboring countries, contributed to witnessing breathtaking clarity of the starry sky.
In this regard, great importance was placed on rock art paintings on the hill called “Sheikhi Chingil” in the Gegham mountains, and on the peak of Sevsar in Vardenis Mountains—the former above sea level about 3500 meters (11,482 feet), and the latter at about 300 meters (984 feet).
Celestial Rock Art
These rock art paintings differ from the rest of Armenian petroglyphs because they are exclusively dedicated to the worship of the heavenly bodies, including the sun, moon, planets, stars, and unusual compositions of figures. In these places even the so-called “ordinary” rock art paintings are inextricably linked to the starry sky.
Many Armenian scientists have studied these unique ancient astronomic centers and their stellar maps, but historian and archaeologist Harutyun Martirosyan came to conclusion that the ancestors of Armenians, while worshiping the heavenly bodies, recognized several important quantitative and qualitative patterns of the celestial world.
Accordingly, it is clear that the heavenly bodies that were carved into the rock were based on accurate observations, that thousands of years ago our ancestors have differentiated not only the sun and the moon, but also planets, stars, and constellations which were separated into respective images and symbols only in the third millennium BC.
Obviously, ancient man not only noticed, but also depicted the movement of the stars that helped them to clearly understand and mark day and night, and the passage of time—seasons, days, even hours. Our ancestors differentiated the long, medium and short days based on the movements of the near and distant stars and planets.
Thus, Armenians’ ancestors’ understanding of the night sky came from religious circles.
The Sun and Moon: Siblings in the Sky
If we look at the disks of the sun in our rock art paintings, then you see that they are portrayed differently: in varying positions, the disks of the sun portray the morning, noon and evening. The sun is depicted through four concentric circles according to its rotation.
Rock art at the Sevsar Astrological Observatory, Armenia. (Photo courtesy writer.)
Armenians’ ancestors believed that the sun and the moon are siblings. That’s why they often depicted the moon, like the sun, in the circle. However, unlike the sun, the moon was depicted with two concentric circles, that reflects two main stages of the moon.
Drawings detailing the rock art symbols (Image courtesy writer)
Following the sun, moon and stars movements, regularities, and their quantitative expressions, ancient Armenians generalized all these in numbers, studying count and arithmetic from nature.
So they gave the sun one point, the sun and the moon two points, the moon and the stars three points, five points they gave to the planets and added to the sun and the moon, it becomes seven points. And the number 7 occupies the main place in all initial calculations of man, especially since it exactly matches with the changes of the moon phases.
That is why, in “Sheikhi Chingil” rock art paintings we are repeatedly met with such groups of heavenly bodies, of which the sum is 7.
Numbers of Astronomy
The first of rock art painting is relatively small, and has inner and outer frames. There are 28 long rays on big frame.
Drawings detailing the rock art symbols (Image courtesy writer)
If we consider that the moon is seen from the region of Armenia for only 28 days during the month, then we have to accept the full relationship of the duration of the lunar month and the “Sheikhi Chingil” ray numbers. So it becomes obvious that we are really dealing with the calculations of lunar month which consists of four weeks, the beginning of which was determined by the specific observations.
Based on these images, we can assume that one of the highest places of the Gegham Mountains, “Sheikhi Chingil”, was a temple-observatory for the ancient Armenians, from where they watched the bright bodies of light in the sky, counted the number of days and months, and they made predictions based on the observed movements.
Ancient Astronomy at Sevsar
The rock art paintings of Sevsar, which are one of the most unique rock art paintings in the world, both by form or by its content, are hugely significant. By studying the rock art depictions, researchers came to the conclusion that Sevsar was an ancient astronomic center.
Rock art at Sevsar, Armenia. There are 15 pictured rock-pieces within an area of 50 by 20 meters (164 by 66 feet). (Photo courtesy writer).
On this collection of “star maps” there are a large number of images similar to constellations, which are divided into groups. One group has seven points, the other one 38 points, and four semi-spherical figures are carved separately. There are 56 points on a stone, so we can see here the same 7, 14, 28 numbers as at “Sheikhi Chingil” in the remote mountains. So using this star map, we can find the number of days in two lunar months.
This fact allows us to multiply the number 28 by 12, and we will get 336, which is equal to 12 lunar months’ duration. And if we multiply all 60 figures of rock art paintings by 6 (30X12), then we will get 360, which is also close to the solar year duration.
Ancient rock art paintings featuring symbols of lunar and solar events. (Photo courtesy writer).
Ancient rock art paintings featuring symbols of celestial events. (Photo courtesy writer).
The second stone of Sevsar contains a number of celestial bodies which show the calculation of the ‘tropical month’ or vernal equinox. Semi-spherical bodies are arranged in three rows and each of them has 31 points (total of 62), and the tropical month has 31 days.
The third rock of the Sevsar occupies six square meters (65 square feet) and presents a marvelous calendar.
On this “star map” four groups of celestial bodies are clearly distinguished, including geometrical images, human and animal figures, etc. Seven figures are placed in the center of the map which seems to be a solar system.
Here we can see two of 12 constellations: “Aries” the Ram and “Gemini” the Twins, from which begins and ends the solar rotation of the spring cycle.
Constellations are depicted as humans, animals and geometric figures. (Image courtesy writer).
The number and layout of figures in the rock art paintings leads to the conclusion that the ancestors of Armenians were predicting the four seasons which directly were depended on the sun’s position.
Pursuant to the Solar Calendar of Armenian ancestors, half of the year contained 186 days. Surely the Sevsar calendar contained an almost unerring number of days of a half year.
It is surprising that the 365 days of the modern calendar are also reflected in Sevsar rock art paintings, which is in “Aries” Constellation.
Having such a perfect calendar and being able to determine the exact time of the precise half day of summer solstice by the shortest shadow of the sun, our ancient chroniclers could arrange, through exact calculations, the sequence of holidays and rituals.
The neighboring Mesopotamia and Egypt in third millennium BC were using not only the calendar, but also used sand and water clocks, however, it is obvious that the earliest Lunar-Solar calendar (about fifth to fourth millennium BC) in Armenia undoubtedly is more progressive compared to the astrological calendars of Egypt and Babylon.
All the evidence that we have at our disposal confirms that the ancestors of Armenians practically knew some patterns of movement of celestial bodies, the recognition and use of which was one of the main conditions for their progress, especially in agriculture, animal husbandry, hunting, and the arts.
Featured image: Stellar rock art map from Sevsar astronomical observatory. (Photo courtesy author © Lilit Mkhitaryan).
By Lilit Mkhitaryan