Inora Newsletter #46


The most recent investigations undertaken by the Valcamonica and Lombardy Department of the Centro Camuno di Studi Preistorici concern the zones around the sites where, in the mid nineteen fifties systematic research started in the Middle Valcamonica Valley. The rock art of Zurla was brought to light in the 2003 summer campaign and the Verdi area was explored the following year. In this zone today are the Naquane Rock engraving National Park and the regional Reserve of Ceto-Cimbergo-Paspardo. These two sectors, already well-known but not yet fully studied and catalogued, form an exceptional body of rock art. They have been now surveyed and researched more in depth. Much more precise detail has also come to light as a result of new GPS mapping in the last few years (Fig. 1).

We have been able to establish that there is no interruption between the various engraved zones, but rather a passage of specific themes from one to another. This opens a new field of study regarding analysis of reciprocal relations between rock art sites and between the latter and their territorial context.

Parallel to the fieldwork, the Department, directed by Umberto Sansoni and Silvana Gavaldo, continues the analysis of the enormous amount of data gathered. Thus, in 2003, four themes were researched: stags, schematic anthropomorphs, huts and palette motifs.

Thanks to a systematic survey of this art, the study of its chronology, its stylistic evolution and its associations, we hope to gather useful new elements to understand better the significances and dynamics linked to the creation of art in such large zones.

This approach should contribute to the development of strategies to study and make use of enormous and permanently growing archives, such as that of Valcamonican rock art, the sheer size of which can cause problems as well as offering great study potential.


The vast zone of Zurla where the engravings are found is covered with sandstone surfaces shaped and polished by the last glaciation. The recent vegetation is rich and abundant. Thus, this (which together with La Rupe Magna at Grosio in the Valtelline) makes up the largest decorated single rock in Europe, attracted artists over around five millennia, from the Neolithic until the Roman and Medieval periods.

Fig. 1. Map of the decorated zones of the Middle Valcamonica.

The three years of archaeological surveys (2000 – 2003) enabled us to identify, clean and copy 33 decorated sites (conventionally indicated as “rocks”). They contain around 1,500 figures, mainly belonging to the phase between the Late Bronze Age (end of the Second Millenium BC) and the period of Etruscan influence (VIIth –Vth Centuries BC).

The fundamental characteristics, compared with those of the better-known neighbouring zones of Naquane, Nardo and Campanine, are its unity and the enigma of numerous engravings which show a refined technique, up to real works of art in the phase of Etruscan influence. The finds of the 2003 campaign confirm the richness and quality of those we obtained during the preceding years.

Among the most interesting new discoveries can be cited a scene of sexual congress with the figures both upright and well-proportioned (Etruscan Phase VIth–Vth Centuries BC) associated with a topographic rectangle (Fig. 2). This is a scene of sacred union (“hierogamy”) among the finest in Protohistory even though common in a continental iconographic context.

Fig. 2. Zurla, Rock 10 (Valcamonica). A scene of sexual congress (sacred union). Etruscan-influenced phase VIth–Vth Centuries BC.
Fig. 3. Zurla Rock 16 (Valcamonica). A general view and detail (right) of the stags with circles at the end of their legs. Mid-Late Iron Age.

Fig. 4. Zurla Rock 31 (Valcamonica).
A general view and detail (right) of the anthropo-zoomorph associated with a hut.
The scene has obvious mythico-symbolic characteristics. Mid-Late Iron Age.

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