The prehistoric art of Val Camonica


The rock formations of Val Camonica, in the province of Brescia, constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site (the first in Italy, recognized in 1976) of extraordinary archaeological, historical and cultural importance. On the whole, UNESCO has mapped over 140 thousand figures engraved on the rock, a number that however has risen thanks to continuous new discoveries. In fact, more than 200 thousand recordings are cataloged, on 2000 different rocks and in over 180 places and locations, in an area that includes as many as 24 Municipalities. Including those of Capo di Ponte, Sonico, Darfo Boario Terme, Ceto and Cimbergo.


The history of this discovery

1909 is the year in which Walther Laeng signaled the presence – in the vicinity of the municipality of Cemmo – of two decorated boulders. A first sign of real interest from the Italian archaeological authorities dates back to 1929, thanks to the interest of Giovanni Marro, Paolo Graziosi and Raffaele Battaglia. Starting from that period, the discoveries of incisions multiplied, thanks also to the involvement and intervention of the Superintendence of Antiquities of Padua. Between 1935 and 1937 a German excavation campaign was conducted. The real work on the rock engravings of Val Camonica, however, began in the period after the second world war. 1955 saw the establishment of the National Park of the rock carvings of Naquane and the development of an in-depth investigation into that heritage, thanks also to the explorations of the great archaeologist Emmanuel Anati. It was he, among other things, who founded the Camuno Center for Prehistoric Studies.


The Valley of the Signs

The enormous heritage of rock carvings left by man in Val Camonica has led to the name it has been given, “Valle dei Segni”. Here the traces left by man on the stone date back to 12 thousand years ago, and an incredible journey can be traced that starts from Prehistory to get to the Roman, medieval and modern age. The most ancient traces date back to the phase when the ice that covered the Valcamonica started to melt, allowing the area to be populated. At that time depictions of animals such as deer and moose were carved. Subsequently, in the Neolithic age, representations of agricultural characters appeared, which testify to the creation and development of settled and structured communities, which often used the rock to trace human figures together with geometric elements used to represent the topography of agricultural land. The representations of the wheel and the wagon date back to the Copper Age, but also of celestial symbols, animals, weapons and numerous symbol-signs. The latter had to have a particular ritual and religious value. With the Bronze Age, instead, figures of “prayers” started to appear – schematic figures with a human appearance and representations of weapons were carved, a reflection of an increasingly militarized society. The traces left by the Camuni people date back to the Iron Age, and constitute the absolute majority of all the depictions recorded to date. In this phase the engravings of figures of heroes and fights dominated, along with the constant presence of labyrinths, huts, topographic representations, including the famous “Map of Bedolina”. The rock figures of the Val Camonica started to make a decline from the Roman age, from which they gradually disappeared. They reappeared at the end of the Middle Ages, with the flowering of engravings of Christian origin such as crosses, and then of inscriptions and laical representations, such as towers, fortifications, armed men and horses, hanged men.


Currently there are 8 parks active that allow you to admire the engravings in their huge variety. They range from depictions of warriors and hunters to scenes of daily and religious life, from scenes of fighting and hunting to wild animals and symbols of difficult interpretation, attributed largely to the people of Camuni. According to the scholars, the figures engraved in the stone were linked to religious rites and celebrations, originally, but in a more recent phase they were also traced in non-religious areas. The most present symbol is that of the “Rosa Camuna”.

The Parks – and their number is destined to grow – are realized in collaboration with the local authorities and constitute a network that involves the entire Val Camonica, making all the sites of major importance in terms of incisions and representations on rock more accessible to everyone.

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