Orientalizing motives in alpine rock art

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Pazyryk horse

TRACCE no. 10 – by † Burchard Brentjes

Orientalizing motives in alpine rock art.
The rich ensemble of rock art in the Valle Camonica comprises several motives for which oriental parallels could be mentioned.

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1. Topographical maps

In Valcamonica a strange form of early rock engravings is interpreted as topographical representation of settlements, like in the sites of Vite and Le Crus. Besides other figures there is repeated several times a “grill-plan” building which could be compared with foundations of houses interpreted in Anatolia as granaries. A second type are the cell-plan buildings as at Cayonu Tepesi. They were found in the area from Eastern Anatolia (1) up to Baluchistan (2). They are dated into the pre-pottery Neolithic time, the 7th to the 5th mill. BC.

The strange appearance of “maps” in Valcamonica like air-born photos could be explained by the location, wich allows to look from the sites near Capo di Ponte to the villages down in the valley with this particular “map-perspective”. In a plain no one could see the villages like in this deep valley.

The settlement of Mehrgarh

Up: The settlement of Mehrgarh, Baluchistan, 7-6th mill. BC (Samsun, 1987, fig.55). Down: grids on the rock n. 13 of Vite-Valcamonica (Footsteps of Man tracing)

Grill-plan- and cell-plan houses at Cayonu Tepesi, Anatolia (Schirmer, 1986, Abb. 3 and 11)

Grill-plan- and cell-plan houses at Cayonu Tepesi, Anatolia (Schirmer, 1986, Abb. 3 and 11)


2. The “man” standing on a horse

The Valle Camonica rock art has several pictures representing a “man” standing on a running horse. These pictures were produced during the Iron Age, in the first millennium BC. These “riders” were believed to be artists, but it is quite possible to interpret them as representations of gods as they were often shown in the art of the Ancient Orient. This way to represent gods standing on their animals could be seen first time in the 4th mill. BC, but they are a very usual motif in the Hittite, Assyrian, Syrian, and Babylonian art of the first half of the 1 st mill. BC. As “riding” animals were given dragons, lions, sheep, leopards, stags, onagers, horses and other ones (3) .

Horse rider on Naquane rock n. 50

horse rider on Naquane rock n. 50 (Valcamonica)

The weather god Hadad, stela from Arslan Tash, Syria, Neo-Assyrian, 8th century BC (Orthmann, 1975, Pl. 217)

The weather god Hadad, stela from Arslan Tash, Syria, Neo-Assyrian, 8th century BC (Orthmann, 1975, Pl. 217)

horse with stag mask

Up: horse with stag mask, Pazyryk I, Altai, reconstruction (Rolle, 1980, p. 63). Down: the horse with the stag mask, Naquane, Valle Camonica, postcard

3. The rider on a horse with a stag mask

Several pictures in Naquane in the Valle Camonica represent a rider on a horse with the antlers of a stag. The repetition of the motif does not permit to believe that the antlers were added later. These pictures were from the Iron Age, too. They remind of the leather mask of the same age found in the grave I at Pazyryk (picture top) in the Altai (4).

The rock engraving from Naquane cannot show a stag. The tail and the marked hoofs are those of a horse – and to ride a stag – not an elk – is impossible. It is too weak.

Burchard Brentjes
D :10367 Berlin


  1. Schirmer W, 1986. Zu den Bauten des Cayonu Tepesi, “Anatolica”, 15, Istanbul, p. 139-159 Hauptmann H., 1986. Nevali Cori Architektur, “Anatolica” XV, Istanbul
  2. Jarrige T.-F.- R.H. Meadow, 1980. The Antedecents of Civilization in the Indus Valley, “Scientific American”, 243, 2, p. 122-123;
    Jarrige J.-F., 1981. Chronology of the earlier periods of the Greater Indus as seen from Mehrgarh, Pakistan, “South Asian Archaeology”, (Edited by B. Allchin), Cambridge 1984, p. 21-33;
    Samsun A, 1987. Die fruhe Kupferzeit: Mehrgarh, Periode III , in Vergessene Stadte am Indus, Mainz, p. 74-80;
  3. Muller-Karpe H., 1980. Handbuch der Vorgeschichte, Bd. IV, 3, Munchen, Pl. 41,1- 108,1-149,10-11;
    Orthmann W. 1975. Der alte Orient, “Propylaen-Kunstgeschichte”, Bd. XIV, Berlin, Fig. 33,105 b, 106e, Pl. 217, 274, 359, 375, and 377;
  4. Rolle R., 1980. Die Welt der Skythen, Luzern – Frankfurt/M, p. 63.

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