“Topographic” Engravings (Alpine arc) part ***

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TRACCE no. 4 – by Andrea Arcà

The Settled Ground in the “Topographic” Engravings
of the Alpine Arc

* Part 3 *

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The diffusion of the topographic engravings within the Alpine area goes well beyond the two areas of Bego and of Valcamonica, showing, as for other categories of engravings, a profound and diffused valency of iconographic meaning.

Rocio 'dla fantino

Rocio ‘dla Fantino (the rock of the fair – Piedmont – I), painted grid

Regarding the more ancient topographies, one can find analogies in Val Germanasca, the small valley of Pramollo, high Moriana, Sion and Valtellina. For the topographies of the Iron Age (like Bedolina) which are totally absent at Bego, one finds unexpected affinities between Valcamonica and the complex of the valleys of Moncenisio (High Moriana, Valcenischia and Valsusa). The rock paintings of Ponte Raut (1) in Val Germanasca, unfortunately damaged during the last war, were made on a vertical rock which overhangs a shelter under the rock, placed on a steep side, greatly terraced with stone walls. Known popularly as Rocio ‘dla Fantino (Rock of the fairy), they present a complex grid with square and rectangular boxes, a rectangle and a crossed shield, a pseudo-circular alveoli grid and, inside the shelter, a crossed circle (rouelle). Before the war damage, the alveoli grid was part of a crossed circle surrounded by pseudo-circular “petals”.

Fontanalba - F

Fontanalba (Bego region – F): a “round” topographic figure

All these typologies (painted in this case) can be found in the engraved figures of the Meraviglie sector and, while taking into account the doubts connected with use of the pictorial material defined by some as “lime” (“calcina”), are thought to be of the same period. The numerous cup-marks of Rocio Clapìer (2), a small valley of Pramollo already interpreted by Borgna in a topographic sense, could really be compared with the alignments of pecked dots present in the Camunian typologies of the first type, in particular at Costa Peta (Copper Age).

At Chemin des Collines, Sion, a series of menhirs were found surrounding a necropolis of slab tombs of the Chamblandes type (middle Neo1ithic, Cortaillod period, 3900-3200 B. C.). On one of these the engraving of a vast wholly pecked area is present (3). It can be compared to the so-called “macule” of Vite. At Rocher du Chateau (Bessans, Haute Maurienne), as well as the well-known red paintings depicting deers (4), two rectangular figures are present, one of which is incomplete and the other of which has two further subdivisions, painted (or better smeared) with a yellow-ochre impasto. The most important figures are found in Valtellina, an area closely connected with Valcamonica. At Dosso Giroldo (5), contoured rectangular figures (often with a central point) and totally filled rectangles are superimposed by traced warriors of the first Iron Age. In the Rupe Magna two grid figures strongly remind one of those of Mt. Bego.

Teglio - Topographic

Caven (Lombardy – I), topographic engravings (rubbing)

But the most significant rock, also signified in the name of the site, is that of Caven, under Teglio. Discovered and publicized in 1975 by the De Piazzi couple of Tirano, it lies in the same area from which the three famous calcolithic stelae come. It has very significant patterns, devoid of superimpositions and apparently engraved in a homogeneous phase. They are vertical rectangular in shape with the top side curved, inside of which are pecked rectangular zones, placed in vertical alignment one on top of the other, in analogy with what is noticed in several rocks of the XIX zone of Fontanalba or with smaller “macaroni” shaped rectangles in several rocks of Vite (in the study phase). There are also circular perimetric lines and grid rectangles. Some of these patterns, curiously make one think of certain symbols of “idole-ecusson” of the Breton megalithic structures (Mane-er-Hroeck, Locmariaquer) or of the stelae of Collado de Sejos (Spain), which hypothetically could have a topographic valency.

Ciappu de Cunche

Ciappu de Cunche (The rock of the basins, Ligury – I), a grid figure

In the Ligurian Apennine and in the Western Alps two other examples of grid engravings exist, though of more problematic chronological attribution. In Ciappu de Cunche, Finale Ligure (6), beside big squared-surfaced cup-marks, small tubs and canals of the Iron Age, one can find 5 grid figures, both rectangular and circular, flanked by cross-shaped marks.

The chronology is uncertain, both for the little hardness of the stone of Finale and for the presence on the one hand of big cup-marks of the Iron Age (done with a metallic chisel) and on the other of a horned animal shape in the nearby Riparo dei Buoi (Shelter of Oxen (7)) which could very easily recall those of Mt. Bego. In Pra’ del Torno (8) one can find a grid with eight boxes accompanied by a crossed circle and by two crosses, which could place the prehistoric attribution in doubt. Instead, following the vein of the topographies of the Iron Age, distinguishable for a greater perpendicularity (and above all for the superimpositions), we can find very interesting material at Aussois, in Haute Maurienne (9).

They are contoured squares filled with dots ordered in parallel and perpendicular lines, from which at times zig-zagging, serpentine or meander-shaped elements branch off, which in some cases end with a small cup-mark. In one case, in place of the square there is a circular figure. They are certainly figures subsequent to the first Iron Age, as is testified by the superimposition in rock 1 of zone 9 where a quadrangular figure with points covers a warrior with a spear of a characteristic body in geometric-bitriangular style (first Iron Age). Such figures have been placed into the group of “quadrangular representations” without, moreover, recognizing a specific topographic value. Comparison with the analogous Camunian phase (map of Bedolina), instead, makes such an interpretation plausible. The connection with the meander-shaped engravings is interesting, and this contributes to clarifying at least partly their chronological attribution. A very recent discovery in Valcenischia (GRUPPO RICERCHE CULTURA MONTANA 1995) has demonstrated the existence of analagous material on the corresponding Italian side of the Valcenischia. At over 2300 m, in fact, one can find a rectangle filled with aligned dots, similar to those of Aussois. Such a figure presents eight curious ring-shaped appendices arranged at the corners and at the centre of the sides. Figures of warriors of the middle and final Iron Age are present in the surrounding rocks.

Continued from (previous TRACCE issues):

To continue with (next TRACCE issues):

  • Part 4 - Interpretation

Andrea Arcà
Cooperativa Archeologica Le Orme dell’Uomo
piazzale Donatori di Sangue 1- 25040 CERVENO (Bs), Italy
tel. 39-364-433983 – fax 39-364-434351
Email: Orme dell’Uomo


  1. PONS S., 1938. Preistoria Valdese: di un antico disegno a calcina della Valle Germanasca (Alpi Cozie) e di alcune ricerche affini, “Bollettino della Società di Studi Valdesi”, 70, p- 3-17, Torre Pellice and SEGLIE D.-RICCHIARDI P., 1988. Pitture rupestri di Ponte Raut in Val Germanasca, “Survey” 3-4, p. 71-73
  2. SEGLIE D.-RICCHIARDI P.-BESSONE G., 1973. Incisioni rupestri nel Pinerolese, in Ricerche Paletnologiche nelle Alpi Occidentali, p. 133-134, Pinerolo, and BORGNA C.G., 1980. L’arte rupestre preistorica nell’Europa occidentale, Pinerolo, p. 226-2353
  3. BLAIN A., 1975. Des gravures sur les menhirs du Chemin des Collines à Sion, Valais, Suisse, “BCSP” XII, p. 154-156
  4. NEHL G., 1989. Aperçu sur l’art rupestre de l’Haute Maurienne, “Les Cahiers du GERSAR” 2, Milly la Foret, p. 13-185
  5. PACE D., 1972. Petroglifi di Grosio, Tellina opuscola 2, Milano, Tav. XII
  6. TIZZONI M., 1976. Incisioni all’aperto nel Finalese, “BCSP” 13-14, p. 84-102
  7. VICINO G., 1991. Nuove scoperte di incisioni rupestri nel finalese, p. 245-246 and FELLA M.-ZENNARO D., 1991. Incisioni rupestri nel finalese: rilevamento fotografico del Ciappu de Cunche e petroglifi inediti al riparo dei buoi, p. 247-248, both in Le Mont Bego, une montagne sacrée de l’Age du Bronze, prétirage des actes du Colloque de Tende 5-11-juillet 1991, Tome I
  8. CINQUETTI M., 1986. Segnalazioni d’Arte Rupestre, “Survey” 1-2, p. 20-23, Pinerolo
  9. BALLET F- RAFFAELLI P., 1991. Gravures figuratives et abstraites des ages des métaux dans les Alpes de Savoie, in Le Mont Bego, une montagne sacrée de l’Age du Bronze, prétirage des actes du Colloque de Tende 5-11-juillet 1991, Tome I, p. 162-191

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