Dating and (up)dating Valcamonica rock
Chronological experiences in Valcamonica Rock Art
1 - Cronology: a solution or a problem?
Since the beginning the achievement of a correct chronological
attribution has represented an important point of any rock art
research. But since the beginning any chronological attribution
has been subjected to the risk of being questioned, not accepted
or simply updated. Only recently the direct dating experience
has obtained some "scientifically" tested results, mainly when
applied to the paintings, where it is possible to date organic
material. So rock art dating is often controversial: some one
wants to pre-date the art, some one other prefers to post-date
On of the best "post-dating"
examples is the "La Grotte de Altamira, mea culpa d'un sceptique",
written by the French scholar Cartailhac, who finally accepted
the Palaeolithic attribution of the Altamira cave paintings.
A "pre-dating" example is given by the cup-marks in the
Alps: they have been often supposed to be neolithic, while
on the contrary the archaeological evidence starts in the
late Bronze Age.
The Cro da Lairi cup-marked slab (Photo: A. ArcÓ)
detailed record in EuroPreArt
(choose Italy - western Alps)
chronological incertitude is probably the most important
reason why the official archaeology is often so sceptic
regarding rock art research. Contrarily to other countries,
in Italy, for example, thus where we have one of the most
important European open-air engraved area, there is no university
course specifically devoted to rock art studying, nor any
officially funded exhaustive recording project.
Rock art is very useful for the front-cover images of various
archaeological books, congresses, exhibitions, but, apart
this interesting feature, there is not a deep contact between
the archaeological academic world and the rock art research
teams. The chronological hazard plays a great role in this
Front-covers of two archaeological congresses (left
UISSP 1996, right PAESE 1997) proceedings.
number is strength
Despite such a problematic approach,
some situations are particularly favourable to find some
chronological keys archaeologically based. One is the
Valcamonica (the Valley -Val- of the Camunnian people
-Camonica-). It is situated in Lombardy, Italy, central
Alps. It has been estimated that hundreds of thousands
(never officially totally counted) of figures have been
engraved over the rocks of Valcamonica. Only one of the
last discovered rocks, the great rock of Paspardo, named
also "the Rock of the Roses", discovered in the 1997 by
Footsteps of Man, bears more than 650 figures.
3. Tracing of the great rock of Paspardo
(left and right - up) and Iron Age rider on Naquane
rock n. 50 (right down, tracing Footsteps of Man,
photo A. ArcÓ)
Why so many engraved
figures? Here in Valcamonica we have a particular kind
of rock, the permian sandstone.
Such a quantity of figures, such a crowding
of signs represents by itself a huge statistical opportunity:
if many occurrences are repeated, they are not casual. In
this sense dating Valcamonica rock art could open the door
for dating many other rock art areas in the Alps, and not
It is a siliceous fine granulated sandstone, heavily polished
by the glacier during the last glacial era: it looks like
and it acts as a real natural blackboard.
Only one other valley in the Alps shows similar condition,
thus the rock there is called pelite: it is, not casually
at all, the M. Bego.
Prof. Henry De Lumley on a Mt. Bego engraved rock:
the sandstone is very similar to the Valcamonica one
(photo A. ArcÓ)
- Valcamonica, the Anati's periodisation
Valcamonica rock art has been officially discovered in 1914,
being the Cemmo boulders cited in a Touring Club guide.
Since this time many scholars studied the engraved rocks.
Not all of them focussed on chronology.
But generally there was the conviction that Valcamonica
rock art was in general an Iron Age Rock Art.
Copper Age daggers and schematich human figures
on the Cemmo 2 boulder (photo A. ArcÓ)
1955 was instituted the National Park of the Engraved Rocks
Naquane it's a local popular site name, deriving from Aquane,
who are the legendary water fairies.
The park, which contains 104 engraved rocks, has been instituted
by the Lombardy Archaeological Superintendency.
The entrance of the National Park of the Engraved
Rocks of Naquane,
Capo di Ponte, Valcamonica (photo A. ArcÓ)
In 1957 E. Anati
arrives in Valcamonica. He founds in 1964 the Camunnian
Center of Prehistoric Studies. Its first years of research
are particularly important, with the complete study (tracing
and recording) of the Luine Park. The greatest intuition
of ANATI is represented by the enlargement of the chronological
frame, i.e. the understanding that many engraving phases
covered as different layers the camunian rocks. Not only
Iron Age, but also Neolithic, Copper Age, Bronze Age,
and a few Epi-Palaeolithic figures. The evidence of more
ancient periods was given by representation of archaeologically
dated objects, mainly metal weapons.
Anati proposed a chronological table, divided in 4 styles
identified by roman numbers. Mainly (ANATI E, 1976, Evolution
- STYLE I - Neolithic - oranti (praying
- STYLE II - Neolithic - oranti - dogs
- maps - idoliforms
- STYLE III Copper Age (statuae stelae,
monumental compositions, daggers - axes - halberds,
deer - dogs - cows - wolves) and Ancient - Middle Bronze
Age (daggers - axes)
- STYLE IV Late Bronze Age (schematic
anthropomorphs) and Iron Age (the 80% of Valcamonica
rock art, standing warriors, duels, riders, hunting
scenes, huts, etruscan inscriptions, footprints...)
Valcamonica chronology by Anati
Some styles have been subdivided in sub-phases,
e.g. IIIA - B - C - D (Bronze Age). It is to be noticed that
the very first chronological subdivision proposed by Anati was
much more simple: I Neolithic, II Copper Age, III Bronze Age,
IV Iron Age.
- Valcamonica Chronology updated
Research in Valcamonica rock art is going on: during the
last years some problems emerged in the Anati's periodisation.
Many rocks have been retraced, particularly the entire Copper
Age phases, in order to get a better accuracy in the recognition
of figures and of superimpositions.
4a - Topographic compositions
Topographic compositions, or maps, are constituted by regularly
repeated geometric modules.
They are the only figures which are covered by the Copper
Age figures (Borno 1, Bagnolo 1, Ossimo 8). Basing on the
study of the superimpositions, the maps represent the most
ancient phase (apart the Epi-palaeolithic style) of the
Valcamonica rock art (a similar consideration should be
reflected in the Mt. Bego rock art). Some compositions which
have been interpreted by Anati as idols (Sellero, Paspardo)
and assigned to the Style II, are more likely to be interpreted
as maps. They constitute the phase II of the Valcamonica
rock art chronology (see point 4c).
Topographic composition at Vite, Paspardo, late
Neolithic - first Copper Age (photo A. ArcÓ)
Topographic composition overlapped by Copper Age
(Remedello 2 phase 2800-2400 BC) daggers and ploughing
scenes (tracing A. Fossati - P. Frontini)
- Copper Age
Introducing a more precise comparison with the archaeological
finds, mainly metal blades, the Copper Age and Ancient Bronze
Age phases have been better specified. Regarding this point
is fundamental the work of R. C. DE MARINIS and of his co-researchers
(A. FOSSATI, S. CASINI ) exposed in the catalogue of the
"Pietre degli Dei" (the Boulders of the Gods - 1995) and
in the NAB review.
The IIIA style (Copper Age) has been divided into three
- IIIA1 (remedellian Copper Age 2900-2400
- IIIA2 (bell-beaker Copper Age 2400-2200
- IIIA3 (Ancient Bronze Age)
This subdivision, based upon the recognition of different
kinds of metal weapons, encloses also human and animal
figures, which are clearly associated to these representations.
Archaeological comparison: Remedellian kind daggers
(Remedello 2, 2800-2400 BC, engraved (Cemmo 2) and
real (photo A. ArcÓ)
Archaeological comparison: Ciempozuelos (Bell-beaker)
kind daggers (2400-2200 BC), engraved (up Valcamonica,
down Mt. Bego) and real.
- Praying figures and the Middle - Late Bronze Age
One of the main problems in the Anati's chronology is represented
by the Style I - II. The key-figure, like a fossil guide,
of these styles is the so called "orante" (praying figure),
dated by Anati to the Neolithic by comparison with the Neolithic
pottery. The fact is that in Valcamonica no "praying figures"
is covered by Copper Age or later figures. On the contrary
in various cases praying figures cover Copper Ages, Bronze
Age (in 1 case also Iron Age) figures.
Many praying figures are weaponed, so clearly belonging
to the last phases of the Bronze Age. The chronology of
the praying figures has been revised, with the contribution
of. R. C. DE MARINIS (1994), A. FOSSATI (1992), C. FERRARIO
(1990), A. ARCA' (2001).
Many scholars are now convinced that the great part of
the praying figures must be shifted to the middle-final
Bronze Age, with some isolated figures reaching the first
Iron Age (XV-VIII cent. BC). The author is strongly convinced
that no Valcamonica praying figure should be attributed
to the Neolithic (ARCA' 2001).
Praying figures superimposed to Neolithic maps,
Copper Age ploughs, Bronze Age daggers at Foppe
di Nadro Park (photo A. ArcÓ)
Weaponed and dressed praying figure on a Vite rock
(photo A. ArcÓ)
4d - Iron
The consequence of all those considerations
is this chronological table:
Another point of discussion is the passage from the Bronze
Age to the Iron Age. In this case the key is represented
by the riding practice: as in the northern Italy the first
archaeological evidence (Golasecca graves) belongs to
the first Iron Age and not to the Late Bronze Age the
style IV, which was related also to the Late Bronze Age
in the Anati chronology, is now ENTIRELY belonging to
the Iron Age, starting from the VIII cent. BC and not
from the X cent. BC. The Style IV, Iron Age, has been
also subdivided in 5 sub-phases, numbered with arab numbers,
starting from the VIII cent. BC (style IV1) and reaching
the roman period (style IV5). This work of definition
has been particularly conducted by A. FOSSATI.
Valcamonica chronology updated (Copper Age by De
Marinis, Iron Age by De Marinis and Fossati, modified
in phase I and II by ArcÓ 2001)
- Valcamonica rock art:
an archaeo-stylistic chronology
A detailed chronological evidence
is given by comparison with archaeological finds (axes,
spears, swords, shields, knives), by the utilisation
of the Etruscan alphabet, by the presence of subjects
and themes typical of the Iron Age art, e.g. in the
A second focus point is given by
the study of the overlappings. Many figures have been
executed one over the other. The permian sandstone preserves
very well any engraved sign. So it is often possible,
looking carefully at the "theft" of the pecking, to
understand the sequence of the engraving practice.
15. Archaeological comparisons:
- Left, engraved Ancient Bronze Age
axes (Foppe di Nadro) and the real spatula axes
- Right, the Benvenuti kind knife
(VI sec BC, from Este) and a figure from the rock
4 of Paspardo in Valle (IV2 style)
this way the chronology of Valcamonica rock art is now strictly
tied to an archaeological evidence, mainly thanks to the
large chronological extension of weapon figures (from Copper
Age to Iron Age) and to the great number of figures and
related superimpositions, which assures a statistical validity.
In conclusion the same idea of a "stylistic" dating must
be revised and up-dated: it should more properly be defined
as an archaeo-stylistic dating, i.e. a rock art periodisation
which clearly matches the corresponding archaeological periods.
16. Archaeological comparisons:
- Up the Filetto stele (VII-VI sec
BC) and a figure from the rock 14 of Naquane (quadrangular
axe, IV2 style).
- Down left an embossed figure on
the Hochdorf kline (2nd half VI sec BC) and an
acrobatic rider from the rock 50 of Naquane (IV3
- Down right engraved half-moon shaped
axes (Late Iron Age, style IV4-5) and the hellebardeanxte
of Sanzeno (III cent. BC)
Footsteps of Man
coop. archeologica Le Orme dell'Uomo
p.zza Donatori di Sangue 1
25040 CERVENO (BS)
See you in Valcamonica...
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pictures are not available for any commercial use. Please
(photo AA, Footsteps of Man)