Created April 8, 2016


Sky Chart Overlay BC17800

In Celebration of Psalm Nineteen:
God's handiwork in Creation

Signs and Seasons, Days and Years

The First Science: Astronomy

The Lascaux Sky Chart

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years.
Genesis 1:14, ESV

Abstract. The Bull paintings at Lascaux cave contain a precise star chart that reproduces several constellations as they appeared within about 200 years of 17,800 BC. The paintings demonstrate that even this ancient stone-age culture, had used the limited tools available to them to produce precise sky charts.01  This is the earliest known evidence of Astronomy as a developed science, which is promised in Day Four of the Genesis Creation Account.

Note: Click on the images in this page for an expanded view.

Lascaux Cave Hall of Bulls.

Figure 1 is a view of the Hall of Bulls in Lascaux Cave, France, first discovered in 1940 after being lost to history for ten millennia—before writing and the beginnings of recorded history—when the entrance collapsed and sealed off the cave around 6,000-8,000 BC.

Source: French Ministry of Culture, The Hall of the Bulls
Figure 1
Lascaux Hall of Bulls05

The Hall of Bulls, located just inside the cave entrance, is an elongated rotunda about 22 ft. wide and almost 20 ft. high. It has many paintings of aurochs—an extinct bovine
21—and other animals painted high up out of reach and wrapped onto the ceiling. The paintings wrap almost a full circle around the hall. The bulls are painted on the brilliant white limestone (calcite) vault and appear to stand on the darker stratum of sedimentary rock on which the vault rests. The current floor of the cavern is about 5 feet above the original floor, so "eye level" viewing of the paintings corresponds to about floor level today, as seen in Figure 2.

Photo from Lascaux II02 ; various resolutions posted at
Figure 2
Bulls 15 and 18 at Lascaux Cave

The painting of Figure 2 shows the constellations
03  Pleiades, Taurus (Bull 18), and Orion's belt in the order as they appear in the night sky. There are some oddities: Orion's belt has three stars, not four as in the painting; and the Pleiades is rotated and much magnified relative to Taurus, but does show the sisters in the correct configuration with one another, even possibly showing the seventh sister as a double spot04 (see the insert). So it is evident on the face that these bulls have some connection with a star chart: the question is, how far does that connection go?

The surprising answer—and not at all obvious
06—is that the entire painting is a sky chart and maps the sky with remarkable accuracy. It is the earliest record of systematic scientific documentation discovered to date. The painting matches a sky chart as it would appear in 17,800 BC, with an error of about ±200 years.

Sky Charts for Ancient Skies.  Over time, a sky chart changes due primarily to three causes. Listed in decreasing importance: Axial Precession
,07  Perihelion Precession, and Proper Motion of the Stars. The charts here use the sky mapping program Cartes du Ciel (CdC)08 which includes these effects.09

For the stars in the vicinity of Taurus, the proper motion
10  is quite small—generally less than an arc-degree in 30,000 years. One exception is Sirius (one of the closest stars) which moves through the fixed star background by an arc-degree in about 2,500 years11. But other than Sirius, one can expect that the various constellations will look about the same over many thousands of years.

Axial precession is another matter. The Earth precesses in space much like a top (Figure 3a). The result is that the earth's North Pole traces out a circle in the galactic coordinate system of the fixed stars (Figure 3b), going though a complete cycle in about 25,800 years. This is also called precession of the equinoxes.

Polar Precession
Figure 3a: Precession
Figure 3b: Location of the North Pole

When were the bulls painted? There are only two times in the complete 25,800 year axial precession period when the Bull painting matches the sky exactly without any further adjustment. This is around 17,800 BC and around 10,550 BC (see the ovals marked on Figure 3b). The orientation of Taurus as shown in Figure 2 matches the sky around 17,800 BC at the time that Taurus is passing below the horizon after its night-time transit of the sky. During this transit, the "southern" constellations appear to rotate slowly clockwise so that the Bull's horns are lifted to their highest position just as Taurus sets below the horizon.

The vicinity of 10,550 BC is not a possible time for the painting because between 11,500 BC and 9,500 BC, Sirius and Orion's belt do not ever rise above the horizon at the latitude of Lascaux cave, and would not have been included in the painting. Therefore the painting points to a time around 17,800 BC.

The Lascaux Sky Chart at 17,800 BC. Figure 4 shows the sky chart at the moment that Bellatrix falls to the horizon during the Fall Equinox, September 21, 17,800 BC. All stars shown here are magnitude 5.6 or brighter—all easily visible to the naked eye. The larger blue circles and smaller dark circles are stars that are brighter than magnitude 4.6. Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky, followed closely by Aldebaran (the Bull's eye), Betelgeuse and Bellatrix (the shoulders of Orion). An oval marks the Pleiades.

Sky Chart 17800 BC
Figure 4
Sky Chart for September 21, 17,800 BC at 0023 AM

Figure 5 shows this sky chart overlaid on the Lascaux bull painting scaled to overlay the chart.

Figure 5
Overlay of Sky Chart for 17,800 BC onto the Lascaux Bulls, Figure 2.
Animation (16.8 Mb mp4) [Audio will be added soon]

These cave paintings demonstrate that even the humans of this ancient  stone age era, without the benefits of advanced technology, could produce accurate sky charts, working on a difficult natural cave surface, and preserving perspective even as the paintings follow the natural cave contours, a feat requiring considerable skill.

Remarks on the Overlay, Figure 5. Note the following:

• Aldebaran is set at Bull 18's eye and the timing of the sky chart places Bellatrix at the horizon. All other placements are determined by the sky chart alone without further adjustment.14

• Hydra's head lays directly over Bull 13's rump which evidently marks the end of this star chart directly over the exit to the hall of bulls (Figure 1).

• Sirius falls on the nose of the Stag located in Bull 15 below the horizon. This is the brightest star in the sky; it passed below the horizon about an hour earlier. The stag is an engraved line drawing, very much unlike the broad lines used in most of the painting.15   16

• The stars of Orion's belt fall within the 4 spots, also below the horizon at this time. The belt passed below the horizon about a half-hour earlier.17

• The two bright stars Zeta and Beta Tauri (Al Nath) that traditionally mark the horns of Taurus are aligned with the horns of Bull 18. In addition, the left horn extends beyond this to mark Propus, traditionally placed at a foot of Gemini.

• The Pleiades is located in Bull 18's mane. Note the proper size compared with the painting's depiction of Pleiades.

• The painted line that connects Bull 15's back with Bull 18's nose passes through the stars Bellatrix and Betelgeuse that mark Orion's shoulders. Thus this line in the painting appears to be intended to mark the shoulders of Orion and the horizon. The rise of the line on the left matches the shoulders' tilt.

• Betelgeuse lays on the back of Bull 15 and the back follows a line of stars passing through and beyond Orion.

• Two bright stars (Procyon and Gomeisa) mark the base of the horns of Bull 15, and other stars trace out the horns.

• Two stars mark the mouth of Bull 18. A third may indicate the "snort" shown with a smudged line coming out of the mouth. Two other stars mark the painted horizon line at the bull's nose.

• The "sword" ahead of Bull 18 may be marked by two more Gemini stars at the tip and some stars (including the head of Orion) at the hilt.

These seem to me to be the principle matches that indicate that the painting is indeed a sky chart, and they are so exact and so numerous that it seems certain to me that they are deliberate.

Conclusion. This painting appears, for the reasons mentioned, to represent a sky chart; and the painting taken without distortion or rotation indicates a time near to 17,800 BC. The painting itself cannot be dated using carbon dating for the reasons mentioned. Carbon dating has been done on some carbon remains in the cave, which indicate two periods of occupation around 6,000-7,000 BC and 14,000-15,300 BC,19  which appear to be later than the actual paintings. If the paintings were as late as 15,300 BC it would say, in effect, that the painting missed the horizontal by 6.5°, which seems quite improbable. Perhaps the collapse of the cave entrance ended the occupation in the later period.

As a scientist who understands the strong attraction and beauty of well-executed scientific achievements, the question arises whether this work perhaps has the marks of the development of a branch of science—perhaps the first science after stone weaponry design—done for its own sake or to celebrate God's glory and revel in his handiwork, as Psalm 19 states. Was there a practical need for such careful mapping of the skies? Did the details of the map reveal things of importance to the lives of these ancient people, or was the work done for the real pleasure, joy and challenge of the task—much as one finds will motivate many of the modern pioneers of science?20 I suspect the painting suggests a strong component of this aesthetic.


Addendum: Supplementary Information

1. The Sky Charts at 15,300 BC. Figure 6a shows the fit at 15,300 BC, the suggested time of the painting from carbon dating of charcoal located in the cave (but not in the paintings). Figure 6b shows the same after rotating the Bull by 6.5°. Note that with the rotation the fit is good, but it seems implausible that the painters would have skewed the painting by even a fraction of this amount. Therefore the painting was unlikely to have originated at that date. On the other hand, the painting is still useful as a sky chart (and for thousands of years before or after 17,800 BC), with an appropriate rotation. Note that Sirius lays about an arc-degree below the stag's nose. This reflects the net result of the proper motion of Sirius after rotation. By 10,550 BC, Sirius is over 3° below the stag (see Figure 7b). I view this as further confirmation that 17,800 BC is near to the time of the painting.

Figure 6a
Overlay of Sky Chart for 15,300 BC (without rotation) onto the Lascaux Bulls, Figure 2

Figure 6b
Overlay of Sky Chart for 15,300 BC onto the Lascaux Bulls (with 6.5° counter-clockwise rotation), Figure 2

2. The Sky Charts at 10,550 BC. In 10,550 the sky chart overlays the bull painting without rotation. Figure 7a shows the sky at this time and Figure 7b shows the overlay, which may be compared with Figure 5. Note the close fit, but also note that Sirius is several degrees displaced from the stag's nose as compared with Figure 5. This displacement is exactly what the large proper motion of Sirius indicates, but also indicates (if indeed the stag marks Sirius) that the painting was made at a much earlier time, namely around 17,800 BC.

Also note that the orphan spot ahead of Bull 15's right horn is occupied by Mu Cancri. Could this spot have been added to the painting around this time?

sky chart 10550 BC
Figure 7a
Sky chart at 10,550 BC September 21 at 00:58 -- Stars to m058.

Figure 7b
Overlay of Sky Chart for 10,550 BC onto the Lascaux Bulls


3. The Sky Charts at the Fall of Bellatrix between 15,300 BC and 20,000 BC. The following table links to overlays between 15,300 and 20,000 BC, and shows the amount of rotation required to match the Bull painting, Figure 2. The rotation varies between -6.5° at 15,300 BC to +8.5° at 20,000 BC. The date 17,750 BC or 17,800 BC is the best fit with no rotation, so the range of dates for which the painting fits the sky charts with no rotation depends mostly on how far one can reasonably imagine the painting would depart from the horizontal. In my view the limits are less than ±200 years.

Note that in the 2,500 years between 17,800 BC and 15,300 BC the star Sirius drops to about 1° below the stag's nose—and of course drops a further 1° for each additional 2,500 years from 17,800.

In addition, Sirius is not visible at any time at the latitude of Lascaux cave between 16,500 BC and 7,800 BC; and
Orion's belt is not visible between 12,000 and 8,000 BC . So it would be impossible for the painting to identify Sirius with the stag at these times, or use the marking for Orion's belt. Both of these time spans include the time around 10,550 BC when the sky chart fits without rotation. During these "blackout" times—which coincide with the later periods of the cave's habitation (according to carbon dating) and perhaps up to the time the cave entrance collapsed and sealed it off—these marks on the painting were either the subject of puzzlement, or of recollection of a very different appearance of the long-ago sky.

Sky Chart Overlays
Bull Rot (deg)
15,300 BC
15,700 BC
15,900 BC
16,500 BC
17,100 BC
17,500 BC
17,750 BC
(no rot required)
17,800 BC
(no rot required)
18,000 BC
18,500 BC
19,000 BC
20,000 BC
Note: Sky Charts on September 21 between 5,000 BC and 30,000 BC can be seen here. These are scaled to overlay Figure 2 when Aldebaran is placed on the Bull's eye. For years later than 5,000 BC night viewing occurs at the Spring Equinox.

4. The constellation Hydra. The sky chart discussed here ends at Hydra's head which is on the rump of Bull 13. The implication is that Bull 13 may continue the sky chart on the left of Figure 1. I have not investigated this possibility. Certainly Hydra is a very significant constellation because it parallels the Milky Way (at about 20° separation) between the Zodiac constellations Scorpius and Gemini. I conjecture that in later times it may have been used as an axis and reference point for sky charts. See the discussion of this in Maunder, Astronomy in the Bible (Annotated).

I understand that some authors claim the entire Hall of Bulls together with other paintings throughout the Lascaux cave complex, depict many other constellations. My general impression about these claims is that they are questionable, and based more on enthusiasm than factual information. However I could be completely wrong about that.



^n01  The precision depended on the ability to identify vertical and horizontal lines, and the use of pointers to measure angles. The assumption here is that if the paintings were sky charts then they should directly fit the sky as it appeared at the time of the painting, and do so without further adjustment (such as rotation or distortion). Hence, if a match is possible between the paintings and an ancient sky chart then such a fit defines the time or range of times in which the painting could have been made, and this range corresponds to the accuracy with which the painters could determine the alignment of the painting with the actual horizon. It is asserted that that this accuracy is to within a degree—or certainly not much more than that. This results in a range of times amounting to  about ±200 years.

As to the accuracy, despite being "primitive" and lacking most of the modern tools, these stone-age hunters were skillful at hunting, which required similar abilities. A plumb-bob defines a vertical line, and a surface of water defines the horizontal, both to well within a degree. Angles between objects on the horizon or in the sky can be found by sighting. The accuracy of such lines and angles for even the most primitive cultures is to a fraction of a degree—certainly less than the diameter of the moon or sun (about half a degree) which is quite sufficient to produce precise star maps. All ancient star catalogs passed down through the years were accurate to within a fraction of a degree. Ptolemy's star catalogs (many of which came from the Babylonians) were within a quarter of a degree.
Tycho Brahe's star catalogs, the last to be produced with the naked eye, were accurate to about 2 minutes of arc. It is this level of accuracy that induced Johannes Kepler to conclude that the planets follow elliptical orbits, and formulate Kepler's three laws of planetary motion—because circular orbits showed errors of up to 6 arc-minutes (particularly in Mercury's orbit), which contradicted the accuracy of Brahe's measurements. Isaac Newton later showed that these three laws are equivalent to his own inverse-square law of gravity.

It is interesting to note that the 1° "error" in the position of Sirius in 15,300 BC might have demonstrated that Sirius has significant movement among the fixed stars—except for the fact that Sirius did not show itself above the horizon at this time (see Addendum note 3).

^n02  Lascaux II is an exact reproduction of the original Lascaux cave Hall of Bulls, which has been closed to the public to protect the paintings from further deterioration.

^n03  Traditional constellation names are used here for convenience. The grouping and naming may have been quite different at the time of the paintings, except that both the identity of Taurus as a bull, and its grouping of stars appears to have very ancient roots. Some of the lower stars in Orion and Hydra may not rise above the horizon sufficiently to be recognized as a coherent group together with the other stars of these constellations as they are now identified. So the references to Hydra refer to its head, and the references to Orion refer to Orion's shoulders and belt.

^n04  The seventh sister is magnitude m5.1; the other six are at least twice as bright (m4.36 to m2.88).

^n05  The view in Figure 1 is from the rotunda entrance with the exit shown beyond the guide, which continues on to the rest of the cave.

^n06   I personally worked on this off-and-on for over four years before coming to the full realization of the extent of the sky chart in the painting.

^n07  Also called "Precession of the Equinoxes".

^n08  Free open software available from Cartes du Ciel. Problems and comments can also be reported here.

^n09  The perihelion precession is due primarily to the gravitational effects of the other Solar System planets, particularly the massive planets Saturn and Jupiter. The precession varies with the positions of these planets; the average period is about 110,000 years. For very precise predictions of solar and lunar eclipses (predicting precise times and earth locations at which these eclipses occur) the detailed calculation of gravitational effects of the planets is needed; this amounts to a small perturbation of the average perihelion precession. CdC (I believe) determines these effects between 3000 AD and 3000 BC. However for general calculations such as done here, the average rate is quite adequate.

^n10  The Hipparcos database (developed by the European Hipparcos satellite 1989-1993) gives space coordinates and velocity for over 100,000 stars down to magnitude 11. It is the database used by Cartes du Ciel. The name is an acronym and should not be confused with the ancient Greek Astronomer Hipparchus (BC 190-120). But of course the acronym was deliberately chosen to evoke Hipparchus' name.

^n11  See the effect in the sky map of 10,550 BC shown below in the supplemental information.

^n12  This name arises because the sun's "house" (the zodiac sign at sunrise/sunset on the equinoxes March 21 and September 21) slowly changes with the precession, and passes through all twelve signs over the course of the 25,800 year period.

^n13  A single scalar parameter. The match (as described below) seems highly unlikely to occur by chance.  it is evident that the painting is very carefully made to match the sky at the moment that Bellatrix falls below the horizon, and to maintain proper perspective when viewed from a particular viewing position even though the painted surface wraps around the wall and up onto the ceiling. This takes remarkable skill. There is very little apparent distortion, except that the back of Bull 13 is "over the shoulder"--Figure 1 shows that it is actually parallel to the horizon, but evidently the butt end was chosen to end the sky chart directly over the exit from the hall, which continues on into the cave and contains many further paintings.

^n14  The size of the bull's eye in the painting gives some room for minor adjustment of position.

^n15  Some investigators conclude that the broader lines were made by blowing powdered paint through a narrow tube onto the very rough and porous surface to achieve good penetration. The lines of Sirius were painted by a sharp stylus or stiff-bristled brush. See Ruspoli, op. cit., for further information.

^n16  The stag drawing was evidently drawn specifically to mark Sirius. It was also drawn around the same time as the rest of the painting. In 10,550 BC Sirius has moved about 3° away from the stag, so the position could not have been added at that or any later time (see supplementary figures in the Addendum).

^n17  I conjecture that the fourth spot was added around 8-10,000 BC when most of the belt was not visible in the night sky. The painted lines used black manganese dioxide used in the painting. Unlike carbon-based paint, this does not have a radioactive isotope with a useful half-life, and so radioactive decay is not able to determine the painting's age.

^n18  I conjecture that the spot ahead of the right horn was added around 8-10,000 BC, at the same general era as the fourth spot on Orion's belt. Thus these were changes to the painting that may have been made when Sirius and parts of Orion's belt were below the horizon as viewed from Lascaux and could not be used to accurately align the painting with the night sky.

^n19  Arlette Leroi-Gourhan and Jacques Allain, Lascaux inconnu (1979) p.83 lists two periods of occupation indicated by the dating of carbon remains: 6,000-7100 BC and 14,000-15,200 BC. See Note 10 of

^n20  G. H. Hardy, a British mathematician of the early 1900s is alleged to have been disappointed and perhaps even alarmed that some of his purely theoretical mathematical work had a practical application. He once said "Nothing I have ever done is of the slightest practical use." He might have been disappointed to discover this is not so. His work in number theory is fundamental to "public key" encryption methods. See Dasgupta et al, Randomized encryption algorithms: Public Key Schemes. Mathematicians in particular may be prone to such motivations for the art's own sake. Hardy once said, "Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics." I suspect that some of the Lascaux painters would agree in their own field of work.

^n21  The last known Aurochs was sighted in Poland in 1627. The name "Aurochs" is used as singular or plural.

22   ^n22  n

23   ^n23  n

24   ^n24  n


Arlette Leroi-Gourhan and Jacques Allain, Lascaux inconnu (1979) (French language). This gives a history of the discovery and documents the archaeological work done, including efforts to date the paintings.
E. Walter Maunder, Astronomy in the Bible (Annotated) Amazon ebook.
Mario Ruspoli, The Cave of Lascaux: The Final Photographs (1986). Appendices include a summary of the dating methods, the archaeological work and analysis of the techniques used. Much of this is summary of analysis contained in Lascaux inconnu.

mailbox Any comments or suggestions are welcome. Please email:



Created April 8, 2016