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The rock carvings of the Val Camonica

Since his appearance the Homo sapiens has engraved important historical and symbolic evidences on the rock. They are known as rock carvings or petroglyphs, which are graffiti obtained by pointed tools. Archaeologists have found rock carvings in many places over the world, mainly near lakes or rivers where the primitive communities lived. They were mainly totemic and lived on hunting and fishing. Although the Homo Sapiens was at the beginning of his development, his knowledge and interpretations of the world were not trivial. The rock carvings show a vast and articulated corpus of symbolic representations, linked to sacred cults and ancestral rites. 

In Italy the vast majority of the rock engravings are on sites over the Alps and the Apennines. Among them, the findings of the Val Camonica, in Lombardy. The valley hosts over 300.000 engraved figures and many petroglyphs. The concentration of these carvings in the area is related to the particular conformation of the rock, a sandstone smoothed by ancient glaciers. Some of the representations belong to the Paleolithic or Neolithic. However, most of the Val Camonica rock carvings date back to the Iron Age. 

The archaeological park of Luine, Darfo Boario

The archaeological park of Luine, in Darfo Boario Terme, is an extraordinary representation of the rock art in the Val Camonica. Over here several petroglyphs are placed. In fact, Darfo Boario hosts the most ancient carvings of the entire valley and the more recent ones, which tell of a past of peoples in constant bustle. The engravings illustrate weapons, shields, armed knights and hunting scenes. It is ascertained that the promontory of Luine was like a sanctuary, where petroglyphs were the representation of particular rites or the re-enactment of ancient myths. 

The first attested rock carvings are representations of animals, evidence of the importance men of the Epipaleolithic attributed to hunting. Instead, several petrogliphs of solar symbols and anthropomorphic figures belong to the Neolithic. The depiction of free arms from the Bronze Age and the fascinating symbolisms from the Iron Age completes the incredible time line linking the park of Luine to the Prehistory. The last people who arrived in the Val Camonica was probably the Camuni, whose evidences are still admired. 

rock carvings
Figures of warriors: rock 46 of the archeological park of Luine, digitized image.

The Camuni

The Camuni were one of the authors of the rock carvings in the Val Camonica. They lived 1000 years B.C. and came from the modern Liguria. Probably, the Camuni were composed by nomadic tribes who settled down in the Val Camonica area, where they remained at least until the 1st century A.C.  

The historians Strabo and Pliny have attested the presence of the Camuni until the arrival of the Romans. They probably were hunters and phenomenal artists. The rock carvings testify they were valiant warriors with a refined symbolic knowledge. 

The Camunian representations are often interconnected, as schematizations of religious rites, hunting or fighting scenes. Each figure is an ideogram with an apotropaic or propitiatory function. The rock engravings could be realized during specific sacral or secular rites. The representation of Cernunnos, the god of hunting and woods, was frequent. It was a big human figure with deer antlers on his head; the god symbolized the fecundity of nature and the sexual potency, indicated by the figure of the deer-god holding a snake. 

rock carvings
The god Cerunnos in Capo di Ponte, Val Camonica. Photo by Luca Giarelli – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Camunian Rose

One of the rock evidences by the Camuni is the Camunian Rose. Its symbology dates back to the Iron Age and is probably more recent than the other petroglyphs of the Val Camonica. It is also the most frequent engraving of the area, found 92 times. 

rock carvings
A quadrilobate Camunian Rose: rock 101 of the archeological park of Luine, digitized image.

Geometry of the Camunian Rose 

Graphically the Camunian Rose is composed by a continuous line, that widens with four arms. Among them nine cup marks are placed. These are concave depressions whose meaning is still debated. Nonetheless, the representation of the Camunian Rose and of the cup marks is probably related to a propitiatory or sacral rites. Maybe the cup marks contained the votive offerings. 

The Camunian Rose is found in three different forms: quadrilobate (like the symbol of the Lombardy Region), swastika and asymmetric swastika. These geometrical representations suggest a propitiatory rites, linked to the presence of the cup marks. However, they could be also related to the sun worship. In fact, the figure of the Camunian Rose is similar to the movement of the sun over the day and the seasons. 

rock carvings
A swastika Camunian Rose: rock 30 of the archeological park of Luine, digitized image.

It is possible that the Camuni officiated propitiatory rites for the soil fertility, or the water rite. Like similar cults by other contemporary people of the Italian peninsula, the rite could be connected to the veneration of the Mother Earth. 

Samuele Corrente Naso and Daniela Campus

(Translation by Daniela Campus)

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