TRACCE no. 9 – by Angelo Fossati
2nd International Congress of Rupestrian Archaeology
2-5 October 1997 DARFO BOARIO TERME
Weapons in Bronze Age Rock Art: votive hoards and initiation rites in the Alps. Ideas for a preliminary discussion.
One of the peculiarity of the rock art in the Alps is the presence of weapons in the iconographical context.
One of the peculiarity of the rock art in the Alps is the presence of weapons in the iconographical context. From the Copper Age onwards, groups of weapons – we can recognise axes, daggers, halberds, knives, spears and swords – have been often engraved on boulders, stelae and open air smoothed rocks. This phenomenon seems to increase during the Bronze Age in the entire alpine range: daggers and halberds are known in the Mont Bego region; Valcamonica and Valtellina show axes, daggers, halberds, spears and swords; swords are also visible on the rocks of the Garda lake; a little rock sheltered in Val d’Aosta offers a composition of axes. All these weapons are clearly datable because of their shapes that suggest comparisons with real types found in archaeological contexts.
It is also possible to compare this occurrence with the votive deposits or hoards typical of the Bronze Age in the whole Europe. Due to the fact that these deposits have been sometimes found in springs, swamps and lakes, few scholars have spoken of a votive activity. It is also clear that some of these hoards have materials that can be considered as “male” objects – e.g. the weapons – and for this reason can be perhaps related with part of the initiation rites of the male youth.
If we transfer this idea in rock art we can consider the execution of figures of weapons as a symbolic substitution of a real act which had a ritual meaning. This idea has been associated with a sacred attitude of a “poor” population that could offer only substitutions of weapons and not the real objects. In any case it can be assumed that the practice of rock art for these people was a very strong ritual disposition, with the same value that other groups could confer to different ritual acts, included those of the votive hoards.
Moreover the rocks engraved are often related with waters – e.g. the rock 4 and the 22-23 of Foppe di Nadro, Valcamonica, follow the course of a stream; the rocks of Luine, Valcamonica, are looking on to the Boario spa; the Castelletto rock was found few meters from the waters of the Garda lake – and this can be linked to the fact that special weapons like sword were found in the waters (often rivers) and suggests a ritual meaning of the rock art activity.
The depiction of weapons proposes the research of rock art areas related with a presence of an imagery with a sexual value. The concentration of such images on certain rocks can represent a special sign which indicates to the frequenters of the area that the site can be visited only by males.
FOSSATI A. 1993 Il mondo dei Camunni. L’arte rupestre della Valcamonica, Valcamonica Preistorica, 4, Cerveno.
MALMER P.M. 1991 The importance of north european rock art for the knowledge of prehistoric religions, in Le Mont Bego, Une Montagne sacrée de l’Age du Bronze, preactes du colloque international, pp. 324-329