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Prehistory in the Park

Evidence of human culture in the Adamello Park

The iconographic documentation represented by prehistoric rock carvings found in locations within the protected area of the Adamello Park is of particular relevance and importance. The fifth and sixth millennium BC see the first representations of human beings, represented in the typical position of arms raised in ‘prayer’, combined with figures and symbols from the agricultural and pastoral worlds: domesticated animals (such as canines and bovids) or circular and schematic symbols. The numerous discoveries made in the Park at altitudes above 1000 metres in the municipalities of Malonno and Berzo Demo (Monte), where axes made of polished stone were found, most probably belong to the same period.

The figures are at first isolated and sporadic becoming gradually more and more complex until they make up scenes. They are present in the Naquane Park in Capo di Ponte and in the Regional Reserve of Rock Engravings in Ceto, Cimbergo and Paspardo. A wave of religious-ideological influences of Indo-European origin unites some of the main areas of the Alps and also introduces important economic and technological factors: copper-working, the first metal tools and wagons, documented by the statue menhirs of the Camunni. These technological and ideological-religious influences cause profound changes in the local communities: the very structure of late-Neolithic society changes, leading to new roles and a more pronounced social stratification.

The next period, called the Bronze Age, sees the consolidation of processes which began with the introduction of metallurgy, the organization of metallurgical production centres and the start of organized trade. In this context, roles and responsibilities within the community are becoming clearer: artisans, merchants, farmers and an increasingly strong military power in which weapons are gaining in importance. In fact the dominant if not only theme of the rock engravings becomes the depiction of weapons captured with great detail and accuracy. Most of the objects are prestigious: axes, halberds, daggers, clubs, whereas more commonly used objects, such as the bow and spear, are almost totally absent.

A figurative repertoire which belongs to a late stage of the Bronze Age is already present in previous compositions: the “topographical maps”, initially characterized by extremely simple sets of curved lines, rectangles, and cupmarks, develop into complex topographical representations. The mountain is divided into an upper sector, where there are seasonal summer settlements; while villages and fortified boroughs, with sedentary activities and economies, are situated lower down. This is testified by the discovery, in the Park, of enclosures with large megalithic walls and hut bases which, in a first analysis, can be traced back to the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age.

The last millennium BC is characterized by the emergence in Italy of the first major inter-regional political entities. The carvings, at this stage, are enriched with new themes and symbols, some clearly from external sources (Etruscan, Celtic and then Roman). The Iron Age is the period of the greatest proliferation of rock art in Valcamonica: the rocks are enriched with thousands of figures in a better proportioned and more dynamic style than previous depictions.

Despite the great diversity, some elements are repeated: scenes with human figures that depict moments of everyday and ritual life of the valley community (scenes showing hunting and fighting, mythology) with extremely complex symbolism (5-pointed stars, cupmarks, etc.). The resulting image is therefore that of a quite complex community. Around 200 BC Camunnic iconography begins to wane: the figures lose dynamism and become clumsy in a stereotyped repetition of duels and fights. This phase of decline may have been determined by the first contact of the Cammunni people with Roman civilization: ancient historical chronicles testify to contact between the Roman armies and the ‘wild peoples’ inhabiting the Alps. Livio, for example, tells of raids and disturbance by these tribes against the Roman legions, leading to a military campaign by the Romans against the “Camunni” and other peoples, ending with the conquest of these valleys by Rome in 16 BC. This marked the end, both in military and cultural terms, of the world of the Camunni: the Roman culture, with its organization, its economy and its religion, permeated the valley world already in decline. The ancient traditions were abandoned, and it was only during the Middle Ages that sporadic evidence of rock iconography reappeared, inspired by the new religious themes of Christianity.

Little by little, the land and vegetation covered the engraved rocks and only recently the work of archaeologists is bringing them back to light.

In collaboration with Arch. Tiziana Cittadini