A Copper Age ceremonial site in Val Camonica

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Ossimo 4

TRACCE no. 9 – by F. G. Fedele

2nd International Congress of Rupestrian Archaeology
2-5 October 1997 DARFO BOARIO TERME
A Copper Age ceremonial site in Val Camonica: excavations at Ossimo OS4, 1996-97.
An account is given of the results from the latest excavations (1996-97) at the statue-menhir Copper Age site of Ossimo-L’Anvòia (OS4) on the Ossimo-Borno Plateau, in lower Val Camonica.

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An account is given of the results from the latest excavations (1996-97) at the statue-menhir Copper Age site of Ossimo-L’Anvòia (OS4) on the Ossimo-Borno Plateau, in lower Val Camonica. Systematic research immediately followed discovery in 1988, confirming the recognition of the site as a place where Copper Age statue-menhirs were to be found in their primary context, the first such instance throughout the Central Alps. Investigations at OS4 were resumed in 1993-94, with a particular emphasis on ritual context, social behaviour, environmental setting, and methodology. A number of articles and two comprehensive reports on the excavations were already published (e.g. Fedele 1990, 1994 and 1995).

The Ossimo-Borno Plateau is a part of the mountainous interfluve between Val Camonica and the lesser Scalve Valley to the west, in the Pre-Alpine zone of central northern Italy. OS4 is only one of several sites indicated by a number of chance statue-menhir finds. It is located at an elevation of about 850 m on a west-to-east ridge, surrounded by deciduous-conifer woods. Excavation has shown that the surfacing statue-menhir was still lying in its functional context, alongside other buried monoliths and scatters of cultural residue from “ritual” activities. A unique contribution of OS4 to the understanding of ritual and ceremony at such Copper Age sites, artifactual and ecofactual finds include pottery, unbaked-clay objects, flint and quartz artifacts (micro- and macrolithic engraving tools, arrowheads, a reaping knife…), colouring lumps and sticks, charcoal, “figured” manuports, a concentration of bones, and plenty of large-sized fragments from shattered stelae. Evidence of as much as 15 statue-menhirs has now been obtained, thanks to the identification of abundant re-used fragments in modern dry-stone huts from two satellite areas of the location (OS4A and OS4C).

All finds are clearly associated with the specialized nature and functioning of the site. The identification of two main levels in the prehistoric layer, combined with the observation of several phases of engraving on a number of monoliths, implies some complexity and duration for the site. In 1996-97, new remarkable features were discovered: a large flake-lined pit, somehow linked to the “rejuvenation” of an earlier monolith and the intervention of fire; and a “grey-marl” cairn, uphill to the west, where a stony talus emerging from the ground was culturally noticed and utilised. Inferences can be drawn from the spatial patterning of finds and features for behavioural manifestations, including the history of individual statue-menhirs from positioning to functioning and finally collapse. The data provide a first glimpse of cult performances at a Copper Age ceremonial site in the middle Alpine region. Artifactually, site OS4 belongs to the Copper Age 2 culture of Val Camonica, as known from a settlement at Breno Castle, c.2800-2400 cal. BC, while engraved motifs show continuation of the site during the Copper Age 3 or Bell Beaker (Vaso Campaniforme) horizon, c. 2400-2200 cal. BC.

F. G. Fedele
Section and Museum of Anthropology,
University of Naples “Federico II”, Naples, Italy I


Fedele F.G. (a cura) 1990. L’altopiano di Ossimo-Borno nella preistoria. Ricerche 1988-90. Capo di Ponte: Edizioni del Centro.
Fedele F.G. 1994. Ossimo (Valcamonica): scavi in siti cultuali calcolitici con massi incisi. In Le pietre degli dei: 135-150. Bergamo: Civico Museo archeologico.
Fedele F.G. 1995. Ossimo 1. Il contesto rituale delle stele calcolitiche e notizie sugli scavi 1988-95. Gianico: la Cittadina [per Progetto Alpi Centrali].

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

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