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22 March 2015

Archeoastronomy: 5000 years old PETROGLYPHS site @ Ait Ouazik, Southern Morocco


On my latest astronomy trip to the Sahara in Southern Morocco, I met with many enthusiast people in astronomy. I had a blast doing many activities related to astronomy as Meteorite hunting, astrophotographying the night sky and learning much of astronomy in general at this fabulous hotel/observatory called Sahara Sky. 10 days of meteorite hunting, astronomy learning and stargazing in the Sahara was incredible and just unforgettable. Please join me in a series of posts on my journey through the Sahara in Southern Morocco and one of the most dark skies places I have ever seen.

Petroglyph site @ Ait Ouazik, Southern Morocco.
Credit: S. Lamoureux/KTY Toutatis.

On the first day of our Meteorite hunt (See article of Meteorite hunting in the Sahara), we headed early into the morning to visit a sight where petroglyphs are found. Petroglyphs are carvings on stone left by ancient people. On these particular stones, you found petroglyphs of animal of the region at that time, strange interlace lines of some sort, circles of what experts say are depictions of traps used by those people to hunt prey. The site is called Ait Ouazik near the village of Ait Ouazik in the valley of Draa, Southern Morocco.

Petroglyphs of zoo morphs (Emu, Gazelle) @ Ait Ouazik
Credit: S. Lamoureux/KTY Toutatis.
The site is on a tumulus of early settlement thought to be more or less 5000 years old. A tumulus is a burial site where human bones have been found and is an indication of old settlement. This is important because we can differentiate humans that were sedentary and humans that were nomads. On this site, you find petroglyphs zoo morphs; Gazelles, Elephants, Emu (or Ostrich), monkeys. Interlaced lines that are representative of nets for hunting, animal traps depictions experts says, Checked board games carvings (also found in other sites through out the World), Tazina style petroglyphs and also pecked petroglyph of geometric forms.

Tazina style of petroglyphs are a style of carving that elongates the lines that forms the image. In the other hand, the term pecked petroglyph is referred to as the technique used by carving small dots on the rock next to each other to form a line on the rock.

Petroglyph of Circle with ball headed lines @Ait Ouazik
To me this represents a celestial calendar,
perhaps a Venus calendar.
Credit: S. Lamoureux/KTY Toutatis.
This petroglyph site at Ait Ouazik is very interesting, because it makes you think; Who were these people living here? Ancestors to the Berber people of the region today perhaps? Why carvings of animal of the savanna? Was the landscape different 5000 years ago in the arid Sahara of today? These blue print of interlace lines and traps were they really blue prints for next generation people to look and learn from? All valid questions. But the most pertinent question to me was ”Is there a connection with astronomy?”. Its seems to me that they have a connection.

By walking around the Ait Ouazik site, one carving caught my attention. This carving on the rock had a circle with 23 lines inside of it, converging to the middle of the circle. Of these 23 lines, 13 had lines with ball-shape carvings on top of the line. The remaining 10 lines were only lines converging to the center of the circle. 

Petroglyph site of Ait Ouazik, Southern Morocco.
See the vast landscape suitable for settlement.
Credit: S. Lamoureux/KTY Toutatis. 
This carving had me thinking that it may be some sort of calendar, especially a celestial calendar perhaps following the Sun, the Moon or even the Planet Venus.
First of all, the Tumulus (Burial mount) indicates to me that these people were sedentary people, they stayed put for agricultural purposes. Also on the site we find erected stones that indicate a way for early people to mark the passage of time by observing the Summer/Winter solstices or Spring/Fall equinoxes.

You have at least 7 other petroglyph sites in the Valley of Draa alone that have this petroglyph circle with lines. Experts as Huard, Leclant and Searight have identify them as depiction of traps to hunt animals, or bag-traps (in french: nasses). I have my doubts.

5000 years old Petroglyphs. What is it? What does is represent?
Credit: S. Lamoureux/KTY Toutatis. 
As an astronomer I think there is something else to this carving, something overlooked, something connecting it to the heavens. To find this carving in 7 different sites relatively close to each other, awakes in me questions of why so many same depiction of the same circle? How many depiction of traps can one carve to record the meaning for prosperity. Remember that these are well made carvings carved in rock, not only written on paper or etch on sand. It took time to make, hence it was probably important.

Could it be that ancient people wanted to keep track of time, these sites would become observatories of some sorts so that people could use to gain the knowledge of the movement of time. Rock carving as the circle with lines could have been a tool to use to calculate time. The site has clues that give away that people who lived here had a knowledge of astronomy, as the erected stones around the site.

Ait Ouazik village near the Petroglyph site.
Notice the enormous rolling hills at the back.
Credit: S. Lamoureux/ KTY Toutatis.
They were observing stars, planets, Sun and Moon movements.
This particular petroglyph of a circle with 23 lines which 13 are ball-lines seems to me as a calendar of some sort that ancient people used to track time with celestial bodies. I have researched this carving for many weeks and talked about it extensively with people, read in books and on the Internet if there was similar carvings or drawings in the world. It turns out to be found all around the world.

At first this site was only a place with very old rock carvings and it was not a big deal, but then I opened my mind and started to try to put together an astronomical connection to all this. I liked the idea that ancient people and civilisations were not dumb or stupid and could have had a real connection with the Universe. Maybe it was their only way (at least their first way) to measure time. Time that became so precious with the recording of agricultural implements and the fact that people stood still (sedentary).

Our driver /guide Mohamed
Expert of the desert, we felt safe with him.
Credit: S. Lamoureux/ KTY Toutatis.
So I opened my mind to all kinds of possibilities. This rock carvings could be a calendar, a lunar calendar, a Solar calendar, a Venus calendar. Then I stuck with the idea that this was a Venus calendar. With its 13 ball-lines representing the ratio of 13 to 8 (13 is the years Venus revolves the Sun in ratio to 8 for Earth to revolve around the Sun). This was to represent a longer cycle of time that the Sun or the Moon could not represent with there sudden and daily movement.
There are 10 lines with no ball-shape that bug me. There is something, but I have not figure it out yet. I admit that there are some gaps in the numbers and this is all speculative, but I loved to work on this project and it was surely an eye opener.

I venture to say that this specific petroglyph is a time keeper and essential to life for these ancient people.

Ait Ouazik was spectacular and it opened my eyes to ancient cultures and people. The way ancient civilizations saw there surroundings (on Earth and above).
It started as a tourist attraction but evolved into a deep questioning of how ancient people perceived astronomy in their time and place.

Please continue reading the next post of my Astronomy trip in the Sahara, Southern Morocco HERE. Follow the complete travel post series and enjoy the astronomy behind it. This is all part of the public outreach of Astronomy Club Toutatis, Kustavi, Finland.  

Links:
Ait Ouazik Petroglyph site, Southern Morocco.
Petroglyphs WIKI
Archeoastronomy WIKI
Article on the petroglyphs in Ait Ouazik
A primer on the Evolution of Astronomical Calendars.