A travel throughout Prehistory led by Valcamonica rock art

  • Luine Rock 34 weapons - Lago Moro park

(text and photos by A. Marretta) Researches carried up to nowadays in Valcamonica brought to light hundreds of thousands of images engraved on local smooth sandstones. Valcamonica is one of the greatest rock art concentrations in the world and one of the largest in Europe, where it is followed closely only by the very rich sites of Bohüslan (Sweden), Mount Bego (France) and Côa river valley (Portugal). In Valcamonica the habit of rock engraving began with the earliest rare expressions of the last Palaeolithic hunters (7th–5th Millennium BC) and went on without interruption passing through Prehistory and Proto–history, since Neolithic (5th–4th Millennium BC) up to reaching, with some gaps, even historical age (14th–16th  centuries AD). The richest activity took place during the Iron Age and developed along with the best–known Italic cultures of 1st millennium BC, such as Etruscans, Celts, Veneti, and Raetians.

 

 


With those peoples Valcamonica had regular contacts and mutual ideological influences, until all the Alpine tribes were finally absorbed into the Roman Empire during the 1st century BC.

The greatest part of the engravings were produced by pecking with a stone or metal tool upon the rock surface, often a fine–grained sedimentary deposit (siltstone and sandstone), grey or light-violet–blue, smoothed by the slow move of quaternary glaciers. Usually single engraved rocks are found close to each other and form large rock art areas placed in different points of Valcamonica. The greatest concentration is located in Middle Valley, between Ceto (south) and Sellero (north), having its centre in nowadays Capo di Ponte. The most significant concentrations outside this area are Luine (Darfo Boario Terme) and, even if to a lesser extent, Plemo, Piancogno, Berzo, Demo, Malonno and Sonico. Images, representing several types of subjects, can be found isolated or, more usually, in thick groups, sometimes even overlapping each other in so inextricable tangles that distinguishing the figures becomes rather impossible.

 

  • 01 Bedolina Rock 1 - Seradina-Bedolina archaeological park
  • 02 Foppe di Nadro Rock 6 - Rock art natural reserve of Ceto Cimbergo Paspardo
  • 03 Foppe di Nadro Rock 6 - Rock art natural reserve of Ceto Cimbergo Paspardo
  • 04 Zurla - Rock art natural reserve of Ceto Cimbergo Paspardo
        full gallery view..

 

Valcamonica archaeology had been almost totally silent until recent times and had been considered “subordinated” to the main available source: rock art. Nowadays on the other hand data from archaeological excavations gradually gives its contribute to enlight an important part of what rock engravings have not been able to explain yet despite their incredible expressive richness. Current researches are in fact outlining the ways of ordinary life (dwelling sites), the complex spirituality (cult sites) and especially the material remains of human communities living in Valcamonica during the period between the glacier withdrawal (about 15.000 years ago) and the arrival of the Romans (late 1st century BC). If, on one hand, it could be incorrect to define in short “Camunian Civilization” the almost uninterrupted succession of culturally different communities who marked Valcamonica Prehistory, on the other hand it must be underlined that the Camunni reached a clear ethnic identity only between middle and late Iron Age (1st millennium BC). During the most ancient phase Valcamonica, though being noteworthy because of its unique “rock” creations, shared material culture aspects with other large areas (such as Remedello culture elements, bell–beaker and Terramare pottery, etc.). The Camunni, officially defeated by the Romans in 16 BC and incorporated in the rising Roman Empire with the other gentes alpinae devictae (“conquered Alpine tribes”), can be clearly recognized as the western branch of a uniform group of peoples living in Valcamonica, Eastern Valtellina but also Giudicarie Valleys. These communities used particular kinds of pottery (the so–called Breno, Dos dell’Arca and Lovere type cups), typical “Alpine houses”, characterized by a dry stone base and wood substructure, cult sites furnished with altars for burning offerings (Brandopferplätze), some kinds of weapons largely spread in the Alps — like Ornavasso style expanded–blade axe and Introbio–Lovere type knife — and finally an alphabet of north–Etruscan origin clearly different from other Alpine versions and epigraphically well–documented thanks to Valcamonica inscriptions.

Obviously rock art presence definitely distinguishes Valcamonica from nearby cultures. It is a clearly unique phenomenon and its scientific study nowadays passes through a hard but fascinating process of documentation, cataloguing, dating and, least but not last, interpretation.

 

from: Cittadini, T. and A. Marretta, 2011, Valcamonica Rock Art Parks, pp. 12-16, Edizioni del Centro, Capo di Ponte