Following Arianna’s Thread Symbolic Figures

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Ossimo 9, Sun God

TRACCE open access papers

Fossati Angelo Eugenio, 2007.
Following Arianna’s Thread Symbolic Figures at Female Rock Art Sites at Naquane and In Valle, Valcamonica, Italy, in Nash G., Children G., 2008 (ed.), The Archaeology of Semiotics and the Social Order of Things, BAR International Series 1833, pp. 31-44.
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Following Arianna’s Thread Symbolic Figures at Female Rock Art Sites at Naquane and In Valle, Valcamonica, Italy


A labyrinth figure, possible ancient initiation game, lies on rock 1 of the National Park of the Rock Engravings of Naquane, Capo di Ponte, just in the centre of a site that once was simply known as Aquane. This probably was one of the most important areas of cultual activities related to the rock art tradition in Valcamonica. Looking at this rock with the eyes of a non-expert visitor, the surface will appear as a confused set of figures: men and dogs are hunting deer, while women are working on looms, duellists are fighting while warriors follow a horseman fully armed, probably a chief.

Figures of various ages on rock 1 of Naquane, Capo di Ponte

Most of the figures appear connected to other engravings: cup marks, shovels, footprints, huts. All this imagery, depicted on the rock all around the labyrinth, is the witness of the last prehistoric rock art phase on this surface: that of the Iron Age, a period where rock art appears as the production of the male warrior class of the Camunnian society (DE MARINIS 1988; FOSSATI 1991). Women are not present within this art. Scholars think that almost 80% of the 300,000 engravings of the Valcamonica rock art tradition belongs to this period, the first millermium BC. However, is the entire rock art tradition a construction of the male classes or is it possible to define themes and figures related to female activities? The basis for this idea is, in fact, what would be still possible today:

  • to go back to the origins of specific rock art activities in some Valcamonica sites, such as Naquane, Foppe di Nadro, Luine, In Valle and other sites;
  • to correlate these activities to a special group, the women of the local aristocracy;
  • to create a reading key useful to understanding the modality of engravings on the rocks at the sites.

The labyrinth on rock 1 of Naquane

This paper develops ideas presented in the paper Nymphs, Waterfowls and Saints: the Role of Ethnography in the Interpretation of the Rupestrian Tradition of VaIcamonica, Italy, in the Seminar Ethnography and rock art, organized by the Oregon Archaeological .Society, Portland 3-6 September 2002. All figures, where made by the author or “Le Orme dell’Uomo”.

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