A Prehistoric Tale

By: Babak A. Tafreshi


Region: Middle East

Site: Teimareh - Iran

Date: December 2011

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As seen on Astronomy Picture of the Day and the National Geographic News engraved in rock, these ancient petroglyphs are abundant in the Teimareh valley, located in the Zagros Mountains of central Iran. They likely tell a tale of hunters and animals found in the middle eastern valley 6,000 years ago or more. In the night sky above are star trails etched by the rotation of planet Earth during the long exposure made of a photo sequence. On the left, the center of the star trail arcs is the North Celestial Pole (NCP), the extension of Earth's axis into space, with Polaris, the North Star, leaving the bright, short, stubby trail closest to the NCP. But when these petroglyphs were carved, Polaris would have made a long arc through the night. Since the Earth's rotation axis precesses like a wobbling top, 6,000 years ago the NCP was near the border of the constellations Draco and Ursa Major, some 30 degrees from its current location in planet Earth's sky.
There are over 20,000 engraved pictures in Teimareh valley which place it among the world's most notable petroglyph sites, still largely undiscovered. In this view the prehistoric artist illustrated a tale which involves leopards, wolfs, a cheetah, and gazelles, and a horse riding hunter (top right), apparently under snow shower as shown over the Leopards. The artist tried to give the sense of distances in 2 dimensional picture by showing some of the elements smaller than usual, like the horse rider, or few of the animals. Click on the constellation icon above the image to see this scene in a short exposure that shows the stars as points. You can recognize Polaris and Little Dipper on the left, Capella and constellation Auriga in the middle top, and stars of Gemini, the Twins, below it at the rock's edge. Prominent constellation Orion, the Hunter, is on the right, right above the pictured hunter on the rock! Babak Tafreshi/

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