Valcamonica and Valtellina Rock Art, sun images

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TRACCE no. 9 – by Elena Marchi

2nd International Congress of Rupestrian Archaeology
2-5 October 1997 DARFO BOARIO TERME
The sun images in the Rock Art of Valcamonica and Valtellina.
The first images of the sun in the rock art of Valcamonica and Valtellina are engraved on the menhirs of the Copper Age…

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The first images of the sun in the rock art of Valcamonica and Valtellina are engraved on the menhirs and boulders of the Copper Age. In the IIIA1 phase, synchronous to the 2nd phase of the Remedello necropolis (2800-2400 BC), the sun is associated with weapons and animals, probably to symbolise a male god. In the next phase IIIA2, parallel to the chronological horizon of the Bell-Beaker period (2400-2200 BC), it is positioned -as a crown- above the head of an male anthropomorphic figure, sometimes associated with weapons, animals and two other figures, one male and the other female. The crowned figure is interpreted as the anthropomorphisation of the sun god, armed, of the previous period. This last phase, richly represented in Valcamonica, is almost absent in Valtellina, except for few figures on the Castionetto 1st. stele.

In the Bronze Age rock art of Valcamonica, the sun figure is rarely represented with the sunbeams compared to the precedent period. It is symbolised by a disk with a central point, that is frequently associated with praying figures: these scenes can be interpreted as cult of the sun. This type of representation is, for the moment, absent in Valtellina. The radiate wheel appears during the Bronze Age of the Valcamonica and maybe also in Valtellina: it is interpreted sometimes as the representation of the praying figures associated to the sun (rock 50 of Naquane; rock 49 of Luine); or as a wheel, a pars pro toto of the chariot, and in this sense as a symbol of the chariot of the sun, that in the ancient legends transports the sun, drawn by water-birds. In other cases it can be interpreted as the representation of a shield in association with other images of weapons: daggers, halberds, axes. In this period the wheel with spokes appears sometimes associated with two other wheels of inferior dimensions.

In the Iron Age the image of the wheel with spokes continues in Valcamonica and in Valtellina while the figure of the sun with external rays appears rarely. The wheel sometimes it is provided with a hook to hang, that permits a comparison with the pendent in the form of the rouelles. Also for the disk with the central point or for the simple disk there is a continuity with the precedent period. In Iron Age there are many engravings that could be interpreted as solar symbols: the boat with the ornithomorphic heads, that in the ancient legends and iconography transports the sun in his travel; the “camunnian rose” in her different stylisation’s from the swastika to the four-lobes figure; the star with five points. The boat with ornithomorphic heads decorates the manufactured articles from the Bronze Age (13th cent. BC) to the 5th cent. BC and frequently transports the sun. On the rocks of Valcamonica and Valtellina it is never associated with the sun, but with some inscriptions in the camunnian alphabet that could be interpreted as the name of the initiated or dead warrior (rock 50 of Naquane, stele of Tresivio). This suggests two meanings for the boat with ornithomorphic heads: the solar and the psychopompous. The Camunnian rose, also in her swastika shape, and the star with five points for the moment are found only in the Camunnian area, but appear as decorative elements on different manufactured articles of many European cultures.

The disk with external rays, irrefutably identifiable with the sun, appears in the rock art of Valcamonica and Valtellina especially in the Copper Age. In the other periods the sun is symbolised by disks with central point, wheels with spokes, stars with five points, Camunnian roses. The figure of the sun is very important in the rock art and only a detailed analysis of associations and superimpositions will explain his meaning.

Elena Marchi
p.zza Donatori di Sangue 1, 25040 Cerveno – BS – I
voice +39-364-433.983 fax +39-364-43.43.51


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PIGGOT S., 1968. The earliest Wheeled Vehicles and the Caucasian Evidence, in PPS, 8, pp. 266-291

TRACCE no. n.10special issue for RA Congress 1997Back to Index

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