The Goat that is a comb

January 30, 2010 at 8:28 am 3 comments

The goat that is a comb

The goat that is a comb. From a bowl, Neolithic, from Naqada, Egypt

(It may not be such a good idea to publish a book on a blog, but that is what I’m doing.  So — dear Reader, click on Chapter above and choose where you want to begin. Some chapters stand on their own, but perhaps not everything. Also, click on the images to make them bigger. And click on the links in light green.)

In this chapter I want to analyze a very special comb, a comb in the shape of a goat. It is not a virtual comb, but the image of a comb that is painted inside a six-thousand-year-old bowl, from a tomb in Naqada, south of Abydos in Egypt.

The horns of the goat are far too long for the animal to be only a representation. It has ten legs that at the same time constitute the teeth of the comb and five groups of lines divided in two’s and three’s further accent the ten legs-teeth. The  body is decorated with the chess ornament that was used to  indicate the woven cloth. The triangle above the horns has the same woven ornament. This is not a common goat decorating a comb.  It is similar to the rock engravings of the ibex, Capra ibex, that have been made for ten thousand years on the mountain of Har Karkom in north Sinai. I ask myself what the link is between the goat-comb and the weaver’s work at the loom?

Petroglyph showing ibex. Har Karkom. Drawing by R. Bastoni

In order to understand the importance of the ibex the reader must know something more about Har Karkom. In 1980, Emmanuel Anati began his researches there (you cannot call them excavations because there is really very little earth to dig into) and very soon his work led him to propose that Har Karkom is the place that the editors of Exodus had in mind when they described the place where Moses received the Tables of the Law.

I have participated in two campaigns; in the beginning I was very skeptical, but I returned home fully convinced that the Saffron Mountain–this is what Har Karkom means–is the biblical Mount Sinai. When the children of Israel arrived here from Egypt, the mountain had already been a place of pilgrimage for hundred thousands of years. Around four thousand years ago, it received its name, Sinai, that is, the place of the Akkadian lunar god Sin.

Rosetta Bastoni is the one to whom belongs the honor of having made the connection between the ibex and the god Sin. During sixteen campaigns she has copied and catalogued more than seven thousand rock engravings of ibex that constitute around sixty percent of all animals that have been depicted on Har Karkom.


Rock-engraving from Har Karkom. Photo the author.

Very often one can see that the horns have been lengthened at later occasions. The horns are the link between the animal and the lunar crescents. Similar images are very common in the Northern hemisphere. We have followed them from Egypt via Iran and Iraq to Himalaya and western China and Mongolia and have found some in California, New Mexico and Utah, but none in the Southern hemisphere.  However, nowhere do we find as many as in Har Karkom.  Rosetta Bastoni’s conclusion is that the ibex is the animal form of the lunar god Sin.

The goat-comb consequently symbolizes the moon. It symbolizes the moon, but it is not the moon. It is an aspect of the moon not only as the moon but as a symbol. When at least forty thousand years ago, people began making calendars, counting the days and months, they did it by observing the changing faces of the moon. (The hypothesis that Alexander Marshack presented in 1991 is till as valid as ever.)

In the beginning of every lunar month the moon is born, then it grows into a circle, grows  old and dies, but after the three black nights it is born again.

Goat-comb from NaqadaUntil ninety years ago, women counted the length of their pregnancy after the moon cycles.  It is ten lunar months and may be the reason why the comb-goat from Naqada has ten legs-teeth.  The number ten (the comb) is in the center with on one side the number two repeated five times; on the other side the number three is also repeated five times. It is logical until you begin to count. Then it becomes illogical–exactly as all symbols behave. Life cannot die; it is always reborn in the same way as the human egg takes ten lunar months to change into a baby.

The artist that painted the ibex that is a comb, thus painted the moon? Yes, but also a comb and an ibex. Let us look closer at the ibex, at the differences between the wild animals and us.

Animals are able to do things we cannot. They run faster and longer than we; they fly through the air on their own wings; they can live under water without oxygen tanks. Some even sleep through the winter. These differences seem always to have been used as symbols, that is, the animals are analogies, examples taken from our outer world in order to explain our unexplainable inner images.

In the same way as animals are different from us, we are different from the immortals.


Ibex. Photo Nino Barbieri, Wikimedia common

Also – it is a great experience to suddenly see a wild goat on a mountain. Did the ancients dream about these ibexes in the same way as we do? Did they long to catch a glimpse of them?  Dreaming of them, thinking about them, did they discover how rich life is, how incredible it is to be alive even when daily life is very hard?

Is this the reason why the ibex is a personification of the moon? Is the reason that the ibex is so very alive that his horns symbolize the moon’s dying and newborn crescents? The horns and the lunar crescents remind us of the hope that the life itself cannot die.

The artist has filled the body of the ibex with the finished cloth, the end result of the transformation from nature into culture, from plants to clothes. The lunar ibex and the pattern on its body both transmit the certitude that everything changes and the hope that is hidden in the change.

Dr. He-Kyong Koh in Seoul has told me that on Cheju, the big island between South Korea and Japan, the trickster god Dokebi leaves a comb behind. He plays tricks to remind people that we cannot understand the good and beautiful without its opposites, the evil, ugly, and frightening. The troublesome and shocking god who tries to make people understand the nature of Tao leaves a comb to remember him by.

The comb is a window through which we catch a glimpse of the symbol: the task of death is not to destroy us, but to transform us. The Goddess combs her flaxen hair of nettles.

Christmas goat

Modern Christmas goat from Sweden


Entry filed under: Combs, goat, Har Karkom, the Moon, Weaving.

Our Planet Gaia: A Different Perspective Sorry, Chronology is all Wrong

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Hea-kyoung Koh  |  January 31, 2010 at 2:40 am

    This is you!!! I have been wating for so long to read this. This is it. My waiting is not lnly for my own curiosity but, I firmly believe, it will evoke so many people’s imagination.
    You are a great mind. Please share your insights and knowledge with many of us. Very proud of you!

  • 2. Anna-Lena Bager  |  January 31, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    This is very poetic! The moon combs time on Gaya´s head where her hair of nettles grows. The monn weaves with its comb…
    Your text makest images move inside us.

    I will try to print out, since my eyes can´t easily read on a screen .

    • 3. krpfll  |  January 31, 2010 at 3:08 pm

      you are the poet, not I…


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