The State of the Research (Alpine Arc) part **

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Valcamonica, Naquane Rock 1

TRACCE no. 3 – by Angelo Fossati

The state of the research: Alpine and Italian post-palaeolithic Rock Art 1990-1995

* Part 2 - The Central Alps *

Today most of the discussions concerns the so-called “neolithic” rock art…

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Carschenna (CH), cup-marks and concentric circles

The Central Alps

The Central Alps offer, for the moment, an area where rock art is represented only by rocks with cup-marks or schematic engravings, as U. Schwegler has recently pointed out (1) . Only the sites of Ello near Lecco and Charschenna, near Thusis, present interesting situations.

The site of Ello has provided an engraved menhir, discovered in 1988 during an archaeological excavation. This monument was studied and recorded only a few years later revealing an iconography typical of the Copper Age (2).

Carschenna, discovered in 1965, presents some 20 rocks engraved with spirals, cup-marks, multiple rings, animals and anthropomorphs attributed to a period between the Bronze Age and the Iron Age: the engravings, after the first studies, has never been investigated and probably some more excavations will bring to light new etched rocks.

The central-eastern Alps

Leaving out the presence of Palaeolithic and Epipalaeolithic rock images, today most of the discussions concerns the so-called "neolithic" rock art, which can be resumed in this question: "are the praying figures with raised arms neolithic?".

In our opinion the rocks of Valcamonica-Valtellina contain only few anthropomorphic neolithic figures, closely resembling the human figure engraved on the deer bone grip at the Riparo Gaban near Trento (3). Most of the praying anthropomorphs belong, in fact, to a period between the Middle and the Final Bronze Age, and in some cases even to the beginning of the Iron Age, as we can see in Grosio, Valtellina (4).

Copper Age rock art in Valcamonica and Valtellina is linked by a series of common features. Prehistoric artists preferred to engrave menhirs and statue-stelae, to suggest anthropomorphic forms set vertically in the ground. The anthropomorphic elements are always suggested by symbolic imagery: the male stelae are nearly always armed, and daggers, axes and halberds are usually engraved. The female figures are characterized by collars and breast. In the monuments, besides the symbolic objects that also recur in the stelae of the other groups west (Aosta-Sion Group) or east of Valcamonica-Valtellina (Trentino-Alto Adige Group), tame and wild animals are also represented.

In the last years new stelae and menhirs have been found at Ossimo, Valcamonica, especially thanks to the work of G. Zerla, an artist fond of rock art that could find many stelae still in situ and for this reason very important for the chronological point of view (5).

In the catalogue of the exhibit “Le Pietre degli Dei” (6) one can find the drawings of all the menhirs found till 1993 and the main interpretation of the phenomenon that sees the figures engraved in the stelae as the representation of three gods: a solar god, a female god and a third figure, maybe depicting an adolescent or a child.

Not far from Valcamonica, at Arco (Trento), new statue-stelae with male, female and child characters were found during the construction of a hospital between 1989 and 1990. A last discovery was the stela found by H. Nothdurfter in 1992 beneath an altar of the 18th cent. church at Laces, near Bolzano. The discoveries of these new stelae persuaded the archaeologist to organize an exhibition – Uomini di Pietra (Men of stones) – where a new analysis and interpretation of the phenomenon was made(7).At Grosio, in Valtellina, from 1991 a team of Footsteps of Man has completely recorded the rock called Rupe Magna (Big Rock). The study has identified four main period of prehistoric rock art (8). The first period (4th-3rd millennium BC) is constituted of few figures of spirals, collars and maps. In the second phase (middle of 2nd Millennium BC) we find praying human figures with arms and legs in U form, while in the 3rd and in the 4th periods (13th cent. BC end of 2nd Millennium-5th cent. BC) there are still praying figures, but the main theme are the warriors and duellists. Like in Valcamonica dueling, horse riding and dancing fully armed were probably part of trials of the young men that symbolize the initiation rites. The Iron Age phase seems to stop at the end of the 6th cent. BC: on the rock we do not find the naturalistic style and the typical themes of the camunnian rock art of the 5th cent. BC.

Coming back to the Valcamonica Bronze Age art we must say that, for the moment, it is probably one of the less studied periods. However, some single subject or period has been studied, as in the case of the praying figures that in most cases are now dated to the Middle-Final Bronze Age (9), or of the Ancient Bronze Age (10). In addition to the overlappings, the presence of female figures within the engravings has a chronological value: in fact in the camunnian Iron Age rock art there is not a single female figure.

Naquane rock 1

Valcamonica, Naquane Rock 1 (I), deers, dogs, uman figure

We can say now that the Iron Age has been one of the better studied phases of Valcamonica rock art. Single rocks have been recorded (11) as well as distinct theme like architectural representations, warriors, animals (12) and new sites like Piancogno (13).

In Iron Age the engraved figures took on greater realism. The heavily armed warriors are depicted as if taking part in a victory parade, often showing off their nudity in heroic fashion, as was also used in Greece.

In the numerous scene of duels the contenders face each other lightly armed: onlookers – when they appear – and duellists are placed side by side, the latter are depicted as smaller in size, making them appear like boys. The engravings representing footprints also appear to belongs to boys, they being smaller in size than adult feet. This constant reference to boys has in fact lead to the belief that Iron Age rock art in Valcamonica should be interpreted as votive images engraved on the occasion of initiation rites through which young men of the local aristocracy gained access to adult society (14). Among the figures and scenes dueling, deer hunting and riding must have played a special role.

The presence of the deer and of the bird can be seen in the context of the initiatory and cultural interpretation that today tends to be attributed to the Iron Age camunnian rock art; the theme of the water and related divinities, the water spirit like the Aquane, play a fundamental part (15).

Continued from (previous TRACCE issues):

To continue with (next TRACCE issues):

Angelo Fossati
Cooperativa Archeologica Le Orme dell’Uomo
piazzale Donatori di Sangue 1- 25040 CERVENO (Bs), Italy
tel. 39-364-433983 – fax
BIBLIO (Fossati)

  1. SCHWEGLER U. 1992.Schalen und Zeichensteine der Schweiz, Basel
  2. CASINI S., FOSSATI A. 1994. Il menhir istoriato di Ello, in Carta Archeologica della Lombardia. La Provincia di Lecco, S. CASINI (ed.), pp. 91-95, Modena
  3. FOSSATI A. . 1993a Deer in European Rock Art, in CAMURI G., A. FOSSATI, Y. MATHPAL (eds.) Deer in Rock art of India and Europe, pp. 75-117, New Delhi
  4. FOSSATI A . 1995a. Cronologia ed interpretazione, in ARCA’ A., FOSSATI A., MARCHI E., TOGNONI E. (eds.), Rupe Magna. La roccia incisa più grande delle Alpi, Sondrio
  5. FEDELE F. 1995. Il contesto rituale delle stele calcolitiche camuno-valtellinesi: gli scavi di Ossimo (Valcamonica), “NAB”, 2, 1994, S. CASINI (ed.), pp. 37-66, Bergamo.
  6. CASINI S. 1994. Le Pietre degli Dei. Menhir e Stele dell’età del Rame in Valcamonica e Valtellina, Bergamo
  7. PEDROTTI A . 1993. Uomini di Pietra. I ritrovamenti di Arco ed il fenomeno delle statue stele nell’arco alpino, Provincia Autonoma di Trento, Trento
  8. ARCA’ A., A. FOSSATI, E. MARCHI, E. TOGNONI E. 1995. Rupe Magna. La roccia incisa più grande delle Alpi, Sondrio
  9. FERRARIO C. 1992. Le figure di oranti schematici nell’arte rupestre della Valcamonica, “Appunti”, 19, pp. 41-44, Breno
    FOSSATI A. 1992. Alcune rappresentazioni di “oranti” schematici armati del Bronzo Finale nell’arte rupestre della Valcamonica, “Appunti”, 19, pp. 45-50, Breno
    DE MARINIS R. 1992. Problemi di cronologia dell’arte rupestre della Valcamonica, ” XXVIII Riunione Scientifica dell’IIPP”, XXVIII, pp. 169-195
  10. FOSSATI A., RUGGIERO G. in the press. L’antica età del Bronzo nell’arte rupestre della Valcamonica, in L’antica età del Bronzo in Italia, Atti del Congresso, Viareggio
  11. DE ROSA R . 1992.La Roccia 50 del Parco Nazionale di Naquane, Capo di Ponte, doctoral thesis, Università degli Studi di Milano, MilanoTANZI L. 1994. La Roccia degli Armati di Pescarzo di Cemmo. Contributo alla periodizzazione e alla interpretazione dello stile IV dell’arte rupestre camuna, doctoral thesis, Università degli Studi di Milano, Milano
    MARCHI E. 1994. La Roccia 20 di Redondo a Pescarzo di Cemmo, doctoral thesis, Università degli Studi di Milano, Milano
    ERNYEY K. 1996.The rock 34 of the National Park of Naquane, doctoral thesis, University of Budapest, Budapest
  12. FOSSATI A. 1991. L’età del Ferro nelle incisioni rupestri della Valcamonica, in AA.VV, Immagini di una aristocrazia dell’età del Ferro nell’arte rupestre, pp. 11-71, Milano
    TOGNONI E. 1992. La roccia 57 del Parco Nazionale di Naquane e le rappresentazioni di case nell’arte rupestre camuna, doctoral thesis, Università degli Studi di Milano, Milano
    CAMURI G., MUSITELLI G. 1994. Il Cervo. Natura, Arte, Tradizione, catalogue of the exhibit, Chiusi della Verna
    FOSSATI A. 1995b. L’acqua, le armi e gli uccelli nell’arte rupestre camuna dell’età del Ferro, “NAB”, 2, 1994, S. CASINI (ed.), pp. 203-216, Bergamo
  13. PRIULI A. 1993. I graffiti rupestri di Piancogno. Le incisioni di età celtica e romana in Valle Camonica, Darfo Boario Terme
  14. DE MARINIS R. 1988. Le popolazioni alpine di stirpe retica, in Italia Omnium terrarum alumna, P. CARRATELLI (ed.), Milano
    FOSSATI A . 1991. op. cit.
  15. FOSSATI 1995b . op. cit.

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