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Rock Drawings in Valcamonica (UNESCO/NHK)

Rock Drawings in Valcamonica (UNESCO/NHK)

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Valcamonica, situated in the Lombardy plain of Italy, has one of the world's greatest collections of prehistoric petroglyphs -- more than 140,000 symbols and figures carved in the rock over a period of 8,000 years and depicting themes connected with agriculture, navigation, war and magic.

Source: UNESCO TV / © NHK Nippon Hoso Kyokai
URL: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/94/


The Mysterious Petroglyphs of Valcamonica and Ancient Aliens

One of the ways the people of the past left behind a record of their existence and of their lives are the various rock paintings that can be found around the world. These are people who lived before written history, when the best way to jot down a scene of their life was to inscribe it upon the rock, and many of these relics of the forgotten past have been uncovered. Yet, sometimes there are those pieces of rock art that go beyond merely offering a glimpse at another time, and show something truly mysterious, indeed.

Situated within the rugged, mountainous area of the Lombardy region, in the Province of Brescia, Italy, is a secluded valley called Valcamonica. One of the largest valleys of the central Alps, it stretches for 56 miles through rural fields, forests, and quaint medieval villages that have changed very little over hundreds of years and seem as if something from a fairy tale, several of which have been regularly voted as being among the most beautiful villages in Italy. The area is also teeming with flora and fauna, much of it unique to this place, and has been recognized as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve since 2018. In addition to this, the valley is rich in history, possessing numerous old castles and Roman ruins, and it has several UNESCO World Heritage sites, but Valcamonica is perhaps best known for having the largest, most extensive, and complete collection of prehistoric rock drawings, called petroglyphs, in the world.

Although the rock drawings were long known to locals, who mostly ignored them and referred to them as pitoti, or “scribbles,” they gained academic attention in 1914 when they were found by the alpinist and geographer Gualtiero Laen, after which the drew in more and more interest from scientists and anthropologists around the world. There are over 140,000 formally UNESCO recognized symbols and figures carved into the rock all over the valley, but there could possibly between an estimated 200,000 and 300,000 of them in total, encompassing over 8,000 years of history, dating from at least the 6th to 8th centuries BC in the Mesolithic Age (15,000 to 5,000 BC) up through to the Medieval times (476-1453 AD). They are a unique peek into the time before written history, with many of these carvings capturing in time images depicting the daily life and spirituality of these ancient humans, including animals, plants, and humans engaged in various scenes of everyday life, hunting, magic, religion, war, and navigation, all of them in exceptionally good condition and virtually undamaged by the years and elements, thus making them and the history they depict invaluable to the fields of prehistory, sociology and ethnology.

The expansive carvings have drawn in much curiosity and fascination since their presence became widely known. Notably they were used as Nazi propaganda during World War II, when Germans Franz Altheim and Erika Trautmann began associating the petroglyphs with Nazi ideologies, quickly spreading the idea that they depicted a mysterious ancestral Aryan race and providing their “proof” of their superiority. The carvings were also used for Italian fascist propaganda, and it wasn’t until after the war and in the 1950s that proper scientific research would start on them again. In 1979, the petroglyphs of Valcamonica were recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, becoming Italy’s first such designated site, and the carvings have instilled wonder and speculation right up into the modern day. Yet with such a mysterious place stuck in time, it is perhaps no surprise that there have also been many unsolved mysteries associated with it.

It has not gone unnoticed that there among all of the images of humans, animals, plants, and various geometric shapes are those that stand out as rather different from the rest and not a little out of place. In particular, there are a few petroglyphs that show figures that are drawn in such a way as to make their heads seem too small in proportion to the rest of their bodies, and making it odder is that they seem to be wearing what can only be described as some sort of protective spacesuit. These suited figures also have atop their heads what look very much like helmets that an astronaut would wear, complete with lines radiating outward as if to convey shining light. To make it all even more bizarre, the figures are depicted holding what look like some sort of mysterious tools or weapons like nothing seen in any of the other drawings, and in fact at no other place in the history of these carvings is anything else like it seen. The impression one gets is that these are figures in astronaut suits wielding advanced tools or weapons, but of course there is the conundrum that they are thousands of years old, long before any sort of outfit or electric lighting would be available.

So what do we make of this? Why would this one set of carving hold such anomalous looking figures so long ago? Considering their strange appearance and out-of-place nature, it is perhaps no surprise that the strange petroglyphs have been proposed as being evidence that ancient aliens one visited the area and were then depicted by the awestruck ancient people living here. However, others have proposed that the petroglyphs are merely stylistic artistic representations of some religious idea or even a battle between two men wearing some sort of armor. The images are so old and the people who etched them into that rock are long gone, so it is impossible to say for sure, but the images are certainly odd when compared to the other more mundane figures and scenes portrayed at Valcamonica. What are these images and what do they represent? Are they merely the whims of some long-ago artist, a mundane scene that has simply been misrepresented, or something more? There have been many such mysterious petroglyphs discovered around the world, and whatever the answer is, the ones at Valcamonica remain intriguing at the very least.


Introduction

The rock drawings of Valcamonica are prehistoric petroglyphs carved in the glacier-polished, grey-purple Permian sandstone of the Camonica valley that extends for 90 km in the Italian provinces of Brescia and Bergamo in Lombardy. The name of the valley comes from “Cammunni”, the name its inhabitants carried during the Iron Age. Its artistic heritage, carved in 2500 rocks scattered along the entire valley, constitutes an extraordinary figurative testimony of the daily life and spirituality of ancient humans. The first appearance of these drawings can be dated back to the age of Epipaleolithic (20000-1000 BP) and the last to Medieval times (476-1453 CE) even if the best represented period is the Iron Age (1200 BCE – 200 CE). Between 200,000 and 300,000 incisions have been recognized and catalogued on the sandstone of the Camonica Valley. Most of these carvings represent animals and scenes of everyday life but also magic, war and navigation. The uniqueness of this archaeological site is that the figures were realized during a time span of 8000 years and have resisted until today, almost undamaged. The Rock Drawings of Valcamonica were added to the UNESCO World Heritage in 1979 CE and were thus the first Italian site to be added to the list.


Rock Drawings in Valcamonica

Valcamonica – Panorama

If you are in the Lombardy region think of visiting Valcamonica, which boasts one of the largest collections of rock drawings in the world. There have been about 200,000 figures and symbols carved into the rocks over a time span of approximately 8,000 years. Located two hours drive from Milan, Valcamonica’s pictures depict various scenes and are connected through common themes like magic, war, navigation and agriculture.

The rock drawings discovered in Valcamonica were the first prehistoric symbols of their kind recognized anywhere in the world. UNESCO first recognized the drawings in 1979 when about 140,000 were discovered however, since then many more have been uncovered.

These drawings are spread all across the valley, but are seen in larger numbers in Paspardo, Cimbergo, Nadro, Capo di Ponte and Darfo Boario Terme. The carvings began to taper off during the Iron Age and they have been attributed to the Camunni people who have been mentioned in many Latin sources. Still there are drawings that have been identified as being from Roman and medieval times with others dated to as late as the 19th century. Many of these were created using the martellina technique of engraving.

The Rock Drawings

Some of the figures discovered in Valcamonica have been superimposed without any order, but in most cases they appear in logical sequences and also explain the relationship between each picture or symbol to tell a story.

Valcamonica – Rock Drawings (Graffiti)

Several rituals for special occasions–commemorative, propitiatory and even religious–have been depicted on the walls. One of the most popular symbols seen is the Camunian rose, which was later made the official symbol of the Lombardy region.

The Themes and Periods

In the 1960s Emmanuel Anati was the first archeologist to systematically study the area. Anati drew up a chronology of the drawings and carvings he compared the type of symbols and the styles in which they were engraved to identify the ages and periods in which they may have been done.

Below is a list of the identified ages of the rock drawings and the style and themes from each era:

Valcamonica – Rock Drawings – Photo Courtesy of Mikescottnz/Flickr

The Epipaleolithic Drawings

The earliest rock drawings date back to 8-6 millennium BC. Centuries before Valcamonica was covered by a glacier, and after the retreat of the glacier the land was inhabited and the rock engravings completed.

The symbols are believed to have been made by nomadic hunters who followed the movements of their animal prey. Most figures depicted in these rock drawings are of typical prey like elk and deer, which were quite common in the area at the time.

The Neolithic Drawings

These drawing date back to around the 5th millennium BC and their authors were the first to have settled in the region in a sedentary fashion. The occupation of these people was agriculture and their rock drawings feature mostly geometric symbols and figures of human beings.

The Copper Age Drawings

The wheel and the wagon first appeared during the Copper Age. It is not surprising that the rock engravings from this age feature symbols of weapons, animals, plowing and even various celestial symbols. A series of drawings have also been found that depict a type of ritual function, which appears to be a veneration of ancestors.

The Bronze Age Drawings

The drawings of this time period are centered on weapons and the warriors of society. The geometric shapes and patterns of earlier times can also be seen in the Bronze Age carvings.

The Iron Age Drawings

The last major groups of drawings to be found in Valcamonica are from the Iron Age. Almost seventy percent of the drawings that are thought to be from the Iron Age have been attributed to Camunni people. The drawings show the ideal of superiority and heroism that were valued by Camunni society. Various human figures, duels, muscles and even genitals were featured in these carvings.

The Roman and Middle Ages Drawings

There are relatively few drawings from these ages. Once the rock drawings gained fame in medieval times new carvings were made, most featuring Christian symbols that overlapped and joined the pagan figures in the background.

Valcamonica – Rock Drawings (Graffiti) – Photo Courtesy of Max Lordag/Flickr

The Discovery of the Rock Drawings

The first known modern report of the rock carvings was in 1909 when Walther Laeng happened upon two decorated rocks in Capo di Ponte. Scholars only took interest in the drawings in the 1920s the main scholars that studied them were Senofonte Squinabol, Giovanni Marro, Giovanni Bonafini and Paolo Graziosi.

More rocks with engravings were soon found in the areas nearby and research into their history began. In the 1930s word had spread around Italy and other countries and soon extensive study campaigns were undertaken by Erika Trautmann and Franz Altheim of Germany.

It was after the Second World War that the cataloging and mapping of the engravings began. This task was taken up by various teams of experts from Italy and other countries that were led by Laeng. In 1955 the Archeological Superintendent of the region began preservation work on the rocks.

In 1960 Emmanuel Anati summarized his studies of the rocks in the book La Civilization du Valcamonica. A large series of conferences were held in 1968 where scholars from all over the world met to discuss the rock drawings, which give a glimpse into various societies of the past.


Adamello - Source: Archivio Distretto Culturale Valle Camonica. La Valle dei Segni

Borno - Brescia - Source: Archivio Distretto Culturale Valle Camonica. La Valle dei Segni

Hunters, warriors and paesants | Source: Archive Cultural District Vallecamonica. The Valley of the Signs

The Camunian Rose - Source: Archivio Distretto Culturale Valle Camonica. La Valle dei Segni

Depiction of a warrior - Source: Archivio Distretto Culturale Valle Camonica. La Valle dei Segni

Prehistoric maps of Valcamonica | Source: Archive Cultural District Vallecamonica. The Valley of the Signs

Prehistoric houses of Valcamonica - Source: Archivio Distretto Culturale Valle Camonica. La Valle dei Segni

Signs valley - Source: Archive Cultural District Vallecamonica. The Valley of the Signs

Depiction of a warrior | Source: Archive Cultural District Vallecamonica. The Valley of the Signs

Valcamonica and its rock drawings are the first of Italy’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, having been inserted on the List in 1979.
Valcamonica (or Valle Camonica), in Lombardy, extends over approximately 90 km (56 mi) in the middle of the eastern Alps, between the Provinces of Brescia and Bergamo.The Valley takes its name from the Camuni people, a population that – according to ancient Latin sources – lived in the zone during the Iron Age (I millennium B.C.). Nonetheless, the 250,000 rock engravings making the Valley one of the largest petroglyphic collections in the world were realized in the course of 8,000 years, from the Mesolithic period (VIII-VI millennia B.C.) until the Roman and Medieval ages, passing through the Neolithic period, the Copper, Bronze, and Iron Ages.

The long arc of history that these carvings span, executed on over 2500 rocks (on both sides of the valley), render this place particularly moving roaming among these rock incisions, one will find narrations regarding evolutions of customs and of the mentality of our prehistoric ancestors.

The most ancient petroglyphs, such as those present in the Commune of Dafo Boario Terme, contain representations of animals on a large scale – after all, the quotidian life of an archaic society like that of the Mesolithic and the high-Paleolithic periods was heavily-concentrated on nomadism and the hunt. Cave art featuring human figures and geometric elements (Neolithic) similar to those at the Regional Reserve of Ceto, Cimbergo and Paspardo, on the other hand, recount the diffusion of early agricultural practices.

Even the first religious characters appear in this epoch. Harking back to the Copper Age (4th-3rd Millennia B.C.) then, are the storied boulders with depictions of humans and symbols linked to the appearance of the wheel, carriage and the first metal-working techniques, many of which are traceable to the National Archaeological Park of the Boulders of Cemmo, and of Asinino Anvòia.

In the Bronze Age (II millennium B.C.), arms and weaponry became one of the principal subjects of the rock engravings, while just as important are the scenes depicting feminine initiation rites from c. 3000 to 2000 B.C. The most complex and elaborate hieroglyphics, however, originated in the Iron Age they were singularly tied to the Camuni people, who had long been settled in the Valley. Finally, the subsequent epoch marked – together with the rise of Roman dominance – the decline of the cave art in Val Camonica, which was resumed to a certain extent during the Medieval Age, this time with symbols of an obviously more religious and Christian character.

Signaled for the first time in 1909 by Walter Laeng (A Brescian geographer), the cave art is divided into various localities, including eight thematic parks, among which is the Natural Reserve of Cave Art in Ceto, Cimbergo and Paspardo the Park covers an area of approximately 290 acres, distributed over three different municipalities.

A walk through Valcamonica is truly an evocative itinerary through history, as told by art.


Valcamonica, the Rock Art

Adamello - Source: Archivio Distretto Culturale Valle Camonica. La Valle dei Segni

Borno - Brescia - Source: Archivio Distretto Culturale Valle Camonica. La Valle dei Segni

Hunters, warriors and paesants | Source: Archive Cultural District Vallecamonica. The Valley of the Signs

The Camunian Rose - Source: Archivio Distretto Culturale Valle Camonica. La Valle dei Segni

Depiction of a warrior - Source: Archivio Distretto Culturale Valle Camonica. La Valle dei Segni

Prehistoric maps of Valcamonica | Source: Archive Cultural District Vallecamonica. The Valley of the Signs

Prehistoric houses of Valcamonica - Source: Archivio Distretto Culturale Valle Camonica. La Valle dei Segni

Signs valley - Source: Archive Cultural District Vallecamonica. The Valley of the Signs

Depiction of a warrior | Source: Archive Cultural District Vallecamonica. The Valley of the Signs

Valcamonica and its rock drawings are the first of Italy’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, having been inserted on the List in 1979.
Valcamonica (or Valle Camonica), in Lombardy, extends over approximately 90 km (56 mi) in the middle of the eastern Alps, between the Provinces of Brescia and Bergamo.The Valley takes its name from the Camuni people, a population that – according to ancient Latin sources – lived in the zone during the Iron Age (I millennium B.C.). Nonetheless, the 250,000 rock engravings making the Valley one of the largest petroglyphic collections in the world were realized in the course of 8,000 years, from the Mesolithic period (VIII-VI millennia B.C.) until the Roman and Medieval ages, passing through the Neolithic period, the Copper, Bronze, and Iron Ages.

The long arc of history that these carvings span, executed on over 2500 rocks (on both sides of the valley), render this place particularly moving roaming among these rock incisions, one will find narrations regarding evolutions of customs and of the mentality of our prehistoric ancestors.

The most ancient petroglyphs, such as those present in the Commune of Dafo Boario Terme, contain representations of animals on a large scale – after all, the quotidian life of an archaic society like that of the Mesolithic and the high-Paleolithic periods was heavily-concentrated on nomadism and the hunt. Cave art featuring human figures and geometric elements (Neolithic) similar to those at the Regional Reserve of Ceto, Cimbergo and Paspardo, on the other hand, recount the diffusion of early agricultural practices.

Even the first religious characters appear in this epoch. Harking back to the Copper Age (4th-3rd Millennia B.C.) then, are the storied boulders with depictions of humans and symbols linked to the appearance of the wheel, carriage and the first metal-working techniques, many of which are traceable to the National Archaeological Park of the Boulders of Cemmo, and of Asinino Anvòia.

In the Bronze Age (II millennium B.C.), arms and weaponry became one of the principal subjects of the rock engravings, while just as important are the scenes depicting feminine initiation rites from c. 3000 to 2000 B.C. The most complex and elaborate hieroglyphics, however, originated in the Iron Age they were singularly tied to the Camuni people, who had long been settled in the Valley. Finally, the subsequent epoch marked – together with the rise of Roman dominance – the decline of the cave art in Val Camonica, which was resumed to a certain extent during the Medieval Age, this time with symbols of an obviously more religious and Christian character.

Signaled for the first time in 1909 by Walter Laeng (A Brescian geographer), the cave art is divided into various localities, including eight thematic parks, among which is the Natural Reserve of Cave Art in Ceto, Cimbergo and Paspardo the Park covers an area of approximately 290 acres, distributed over three different municipalities.

A walk through Valcamonica is truly an evocative itinerary through history, as told by art.


The National Park of Rock Engravings in Capo di Ponte

The Naquane National Park of Rock Engravings in Capo di Ponte was the first park established in Camonica Valley in 1955. The area extends over 14 hectares of rock art land, a most important section belonging in Camonica Valley’s World Heritage UNESCO site n. 94.

In this park, in a magnificently wooded environment, one can admire as many as 104 engraved rocks, endowed with information panels, divided into 5 easy-to-walk routes for about 3 km. The entire tour of all paths takes at least 4 hours.

On these broad surfaces of glacier-polished, grey-purple sandstone, ancient Valley dwellers made some figures by pecking the rock with stone strikers or, at times, with pointed tools. The rock art chronology in the Park ranges from the Neolithic (5th-4th millennium BCE) and the Iron Age (1st millennium BCE), and there are also engravings from historical times. The best represented period is undoubtedly the Iron Age, when the Valley was inhabited by the Camunni as documented by the Romans.

Some rocks are remarkably large, notably Rock 1, impressive for its extraordinary wealth and variety of engraved figures, all in all a thousand. Among them, many animals, armed men, vertical looms with weights, shovels, huts, cupmarks, and a labyrinth.

On many rocks stand out human stick figures in the so-called orant position: arms upraised, symmetrical legs and a linear body, with some variations. According to studies, this type of figure was first conceived in the Neolithic and lasted till the early Iron Age. On this Park’s rocks one may also see warriors, knights, animals, huts, symbolic figures and Camunian inscriptions, sometimes interpreted as elements of complex scenes, which can’t be figured out easily. Quite often the rock surfaces were engraved over and over, superimposing figures from different ages. In this way, for instance, was created the so-called “village scene” on Rock 35, where some huts engraved over some preceding scenes of deer hunting seem to show a village in action. Some figures display a particular artistic value, such as the famous representation of a running priest or shaman on Rock 35. In some cases we have veritable divine images, as in the case of Rock 70, where an impressive human figure with a remarkable set of deer antlers is interpreted as the god Kernunnos, according to comparisons with the well-known Gundestrup cauldron in Denmark.

Getting here

From Capo di Ponte, follow the signs to the Carabinieri Station and the Sante Church, around which you can park the car: from here, following the signs, in a few minutes on foot you reach the Park entrance. Buses can park in the lot of Graffiti Hotel crossing State Road 42, you can take the pedestrian route to the Park through Ronchi di Zir.


Valcamonica, the Rock Art

Adamello - Source: Archivio Distretto Culturale Valle Camonica. La Valle dei Segni

Borno - Brescia - Source: Archivio Distretto Culturale Valle Camonica. La Valle dei Segni

Hunters, warriors and paesants | Source: Archive Cultural District Vallecamonica. The Valley of the Signs

The Camunian Rose - Source: Archivio Distretto Culturale Valle Camonica. La Valle dei Segni

Depiction of a warrior - Source: Archivio Distretto Culturale Valle Camonica. La Valle dei Segni

Prehistoric maps of Valcamonica | Source: Archive Cultural District Vallecamonica. The Valley of the Signs

Prehistoric houses of Valcamonica - Source: Archivio Distretto Culturale Valle Camonica. La Valle dei Segni

Signs valley - Source: Archive Cultural District Vallecamonica. The Valley of the Signs

Depiction of a warrior | Source: Archive Cultural District Vallecamonica. The Valley of the Signs

Valcamonica and its rock drawings are the first of Italy’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, having been inserted on the List in 1979.
Valcamonica (or Valle Camonica), in Lombardy, extends over approximately 90 km (56 mi) in the middle of the eastern Alps, between the Provinces of Brescia and Bergamo.The Valley takes its name from the Camuni people, a population that – according to ancient Latin sources – lived in the zone during the Iron Age (I millennium B.C.). Nonetheless, the 250,000 rock engravings making the Valley one of the largest petroglyphic collections in the world were realized in the course of 8,000 years, from the Mesolithic period (VIII-VI millennia B.C.) until the Roman and Medieval ages, passing through the Neolithic period, the Copper, Bronze, and Iron Ages.

The long arc of history that these carvings span, executed on over 2500 rocks (on both sides of the valley), render this place particularly moving roaming among these rock incisions, one will find narrations regarding evolutions of customs and of the mentality of our prehistoric ancestors.

The most ancient petroglyphs, such as those present in the Commune of Dafo Boario Terme, contain representations of animals on a large scale – after all, the quotidian life of an archaic society like that of the Mesolithic and the high-Paleolithic periods was heavily-concentrated on nomadism and the hunt. Cave art featuring human figures and geometric elements (Neolithic) similar to those at the Regional Reserve of Ceto, Cimbergo and Paspardo, on the other hand, recount the diffusion of early agricultural practices.

Even the first religious characters appear in this epoch. Harking back to the Copper Age (4th-3rd Millennia B.C.) then, are the storied boulders with depictions of humans and symbols linked to the appearance of the wheel, carriage and the first metal-working techniques, many of which are traceable to the National Archaeological Park of the Boulders of Cemmo, and of Asinino Anvòia.

In the Bronze Age (II millennium B.C.), arms and weaponry became one of the principal subjects of the rock engravings, while just as important are the scenes depicting feminine initiation rites from c. 3000 to 2000 B.C. The most complex and elaborate hieroglyphics, however, originated in the Iron Age they were singularly tied to the Camuni people, who had long been settled in the Valley. Finally, the subsequent epoch marked – together with the rise of Roman dominance – the decline of the cave art in Val Camonica, which was resumed to a certain extent during the Medieval Age, this time with symbols of an obviously more religious and Christian character.

Signaled for the first time in 1909 by Walter Laeng (A Brescian geographer), the cave art is divided into various localities, including eight thematic parks, among which is the Natural Reserve of Cave Art in Ceto, Cimbergo and Paspardo the Park covers an area of approximately 290 acres, distributed over three different municipalities.

A walk through Valcamonica is truly an evocative itinerary through history, as told by art.


See The Ancient Rock Drawings In Val Camonica In Lombardy!

The scenic Valcamonica, situated on the plains of Lombardy in northern Italy is home to a famous UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is a massive collection of over 140,000 intricate figures and symbols carved by humans throughout rocks in the valley. This rich tapestry of creative history gives us a fascinating insight into how our ancestors lived and the aspects of life that captured their interest.

Why not book into a cosy vacation villa in Lombardy where you can easily commute to see this intriguing attraction as well as lots of charming cities, towns and villages in the region

The rock drawings in Valcamonica are spread out over 2,400 rocks along both sides of the valley and are strictly preserved as an outdoor museum of history and art. Scenes of hunting, early religious beliefs, social groups, customs and celebrations illustrated these rocks and tell a unique story of how early humans lived over a period of 8000 years!

The human figure was a fundamental character throughout this period and evolved in detail and colour as humans gained more time for leisure due to improved brain power and ingenuity.

The most famous symbol here is called the Camunian rose which went on to become the official symbol of the Lombardy region.

The rock drawings in Valcamonica became Italy’s first awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 and is a major tourist attraction!

Tourists can easily commute to this site via train, bus or car and can walk around this fascinating area of history for only €4. Guiding leaflets are available in several languages as are signposts as you tour around the illustrated rocks.

Read through our other articles on exciting UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy to visit on your next vacation here!


Rock Drawings in Valcamonica (UNESCO/NHK) - History

This list, created within the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1972, is an instrument to protect sites considered to be of extraordinary cultural and/or natural value, which are therefore considered the concern of all of humanity.

Among all the World Heritage sites, almost 50 contain rock art, specifically 48 of them. In most of them, the rock art itself is the World Heritage, while in others it is one of the added values of a landscape or natural area which is also categorised as a World Heritage Site. This large number reflects the fact that rock art is the only universal art form over time and space it is the oldest art form made from 43,000 years ago until today. This exceptional, universal feature of rock art has gradually been reflected on the List until reaching the current map, which reveals its widespread geographic distribution (above).

Chronologically, the first two rock art sites to be designated World Heritage Sites were the Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley in France and the Rock Drawings in Valcamonica in Italy, both in 1979. In 1985, the Cave of Altamira in Spain (Figure 1), the Rock Art of Alta in Norway and the Rock-Art Sites of Tadrart Acacus in Libya were added. Very few were considered again until 1994: the Serra da Capivara National Park in Brazil, the Rock Paintings of the Sierra de San Francisco in Mexico (Figure 2), the Lines and Geoglyphs of Nasca and Palpa in Peru and the Rock Carvings in Tanum in Sweden. Furthermore, other sites that contain rock art are registered on the World Heritage List of Natural Sites, such as Mesa Verde National Park in the United States, Kakadu National Park in Australia and Tassili n’Ajjer in Algeria.

After realising this, the Committee presented the Global strategy for a representative, balanced and credible World Heritage List, which set new registration strategies to make the list more varied, more representative of the world’s cultural and natural richness and more geographically balanced. Since then, virtually every year, and sometimes twice a year, sites with rock art have been honoured as World Heritage.

Indeed, rock art can be found in all inhabited regions of the world: forests, steppes or deserts, mountains or valleys in the depths of caverns or in open shelters and rock pools. All we have to do is look at landscapes like the deserts in the Air and Ténéré Natural Reserves in Niger, where huge rocks are peppered with engravings of elephants, oryxes, giraffes, ostriches and gazelles the steep cliff walls of the Grand Canyon and Chaco Canyon in the United States and the almost glacial landscapes like Alta in Norway.

While in Palaeolithic art, the oldest form existing, few human figures were painted or carved and the depictions are not very naturalistic, since around 10,000 years ago people have featured in rock art in hunting, gathering, grazing, dancing or fighting scenes. Magnificent examples can be found in the Rock Art of the Iberian Mediterranean Basin and the Cliff of Bandiagara in Mali, as well as the vast red and black figures in Mexico’s Rock Paintings of Sierra de San Francisco. In contrast, depictions of anatomical parts like the vulva and especially the hand, either in outline or as handprints, have been common motifs on five continents since the most ancient art the best example is unquestionably Cueva de las Manos in Argentina.

When what is depicted has no counterpart in nature, we tend to call it a sign. They are also quite frequent and widespread throughout the world and over time they can be simple geometric shapes like triangles, circles, rectangles or dots, or more complex shapes like spirals and labyrinths, and they can come in multiple variations and combinations. They are found in almost all European caves with Palaeolithic rock art, in Africa in Chongoni (Malawi) and Lopé-Okanda (Gabon), in the Americas in Yagul and Mitla in Mexico, in Australia in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and Kakadu National Park, and more recently the carvings in Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain in Kyrgyzstan.

However, if all rock art has one thing in common, it’s unquestionably its fragility, since it is constantly exposed to both natural and human-made factors which can degrade it. In addition to raising awareness of the need to enlist everyone in safeguarding this heritage, UNESCO also created the List of World Heritage in Danger for all sites that run the risk of disappearing or seriously deteriorating. Today, the Rock-Art Sites of Tadrart Acacus in Libya and Air and Ténéré Natural Reserves in Niger are on this list, both of them due to the social instability of the two countries.

One can only conclude that rock art is a visual book recounting our history and our way of understanding the world. Yet it’s not only about the past but is also part of our identity, of what we are today, and it’s even living culture in numerous communities. Therefore, both the oldest and the most recent rock art become meaningful in their contexts, meaning their landscape, society and culture. Understanding this should lead us to appreciate the extraordinary importance of this cultural expression and the need to preserve not only its physical integrity through protection and conservation measures but also its associated values. Those sites on the World Heritage List have already been showcased and protected, but let us not forget that there may be as many as 400,000 known sites with rock art on the planet, and they all share the values and features outlined here. Therefore, we all can and should contribute to preserving them.

Esta Lista, también conocida como Patrimonio de la Humanidad, es un instrumento para la protección de los bienes considerados de gran riqueza cultural y/o natural y que, por tanto, se consideran relevantes para toda la humanidad. Esta Lista fue creada en el marco de la Convención para la Protección del Patrimonio Cultural y Natural adoptada por la Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Educación, la Ciencia y la Cultura – UNESCO – en 1972.

Si de entre todos los sitios Patrimonio Mundial seleccionamos los que contienen arte rupestre, podemos llegar al medio centenar, 48 en concreto. En su mayoría, el arte rupestre es el bien en sí mismo Patrimonio Mundial en otros, es uno de los valores añadidos de un paisaje o área natural con la misma consideración. Este alto número obedece al hecho de que el arte rupestre es el único hecho artístico universal en el tiempo y en el espacio es el arte más antiguo, realizado desde hace más de 43 000 años hasta la actualidad. Esa excepcionalidad y universalidad se ha ido viendo reflejada en la Lista de forma paulatina hasta conformar el actual mapa en que se puede constatar su enorme distribución geográfica.

Cronológicamente los dos primeros sitios con arte rupestre en ser designados Patrimonio Mundial fueron los sitios prehistóricos y cuevas con pinturas del Valle del Vézère en Francia y el arte rupestre de Val Camónica de Italia, ambos en 1979. En 1985 se inscribe la cueva de Altamira de España (Figura 1), el arte rupestre de Alta en Noruega y los sitios rupestres de Tadrart Acacus en Libia. Hasta 1994 pocos más reciben esta consideración: el Parque Nacional de Sierra de Capivara en Brasil, las pinturas rupestres de la Sierra de San Francisco en México (Figura 2), las líneas y geoglifos de Nazca y Pampas de Jumana de Perú y los grabados rupestres de Tanum en Suecia. Además otros sitios que contienen arte rupestre son inscritos en la Lista de bienes naturales como el Parque Nacional de Mesa Verde en Estados Unidos, el Parque Nacional de Kakadú en Australia o Tassili N’Ajjer en Argelia.

Tras esta constatación, el Comité presenta la “Estrategia global para una Lista del Patrimonio Mundial equilibrada, representativa y creíble” que marca nuevas estrategias de inscripción para que la Lista sea más variada, más representativa de la riqueza cultural y natural del mundo, y geográficamente equilibrada. A partir de entonces, prácticamente todos los años e incluso algunos años por partida doble, se ha otorgado la categoría de Patrimonio Mundial a sitios con arte rupestre.

Porque efectivamente encontramos arte rupestre en todas las regiones del mundo que habitamos: bosques, estepas o desiertos, montañas o valles en la profundidad de las cavernas o en abrigos y rocas al aire libre. Basta contemplar paisajes como los desiertos en las reservas naturales del Air y del Teneré en Níger donde grandes rocas están cuajadas de grabados de elefantes, orix, jirafas, avestruces y gacelas, las escarpadas paredes del Gran Cañón o del Cañón Chaco en Estados Unidos o los paisajes casi glaciares como Alta en Noruega.

En cuanto a los temas representados, el mayor porcentaje son animales, aquellos característicos del paisaje o el clima en el que fueron realizados: elands en el Parque Maloti – Drakensberg de Sudáfrica y Lesotho, guanacos en la cueva de Las Manos en la Patagonia argentina, jirafas, leones y rinocerontes como en Twyfelfontein (Figura 3) en Namibia o Matobo en Zimbabwe, caballos como en el paisaje arqueológico de Tamgaly en Kazajastán, camellos en Uadi Rum en Jordania o ciervos, bisontes, caballos y cabras como en las cuevas con arte rupestre paleolítico del norte de España que acompañan a Altamira en su condición de Patrimonio Mundial desde 2008.

Cuando lo representado no tiene un referente natural solemos llamarle signo. También es muy frecuente y amplia- mente extendida en todo el mundo y cronología su representación pueden ser formas geométricas simples como triángulos, círculos, rectángulos o puntos, hasta más otras complejas como espirales o laberintos, y con múltiples variantes y combinaciones: los hay en casi todas las cuevas europeas con arte rupestre paleolítico, en África como en Chongoni (Malawi) o Lopé Okanda (Gabón), en América como en las mexicanas Yagul y Mitla, Australia como en el Parque Ulurú como en Kadadú y de fechas recientes como los grabados de la montaña sagrada de Sulaiman-Too en Kirguizistán.

Pero si hay algo común a todo el arte rupestre es, sin duda, su fragilidad pues está expuesto permanentemente a factores de degradación, no sólo naturales sino también los provocados por los humanos. UNESCO, además de concienciar de la necesaria implicación de todos en la salvaguarda de este patrimonio, también creó la Lista de Patrimonio Mundial en Peligro para aquellos bienes que corrieran riesgo de desaparición o grave deterioro. Hoy, Tadrart Acacus en Libia y Air y Teneré en Níger están en esta Lista, en ambos casos por la inestabilidad social de ambos países.

Solo resta concluir que el arte rupestre es un libro visual de nuestra historia, de nuestra forma de comprender el mundo, pero no es sólo historia pasada pues forma parte de nuestra identidad, de lo que hoy somos, e incluso es cultura viva entre numerosas comunidades. Así, el arte rupestre más antiguo y el más actual tiene sentido en su contexto entendido como paisaje, sociedad y cultura. Entender esto debe llevarnos a valorar la gran relevancia de esta manifestación cultural y la necesidad de preservar no solo su integridad física a través de medidas de protección y conservación, sino sus valores asociados. Aquellos sitios que están en la Lista de Patrimonio Mundial ya han sido destacados y protegidos, pero no olvidemos que los sitios con arte rupestre conocidos en el planeta pueden alcanzar la cifra de 400.000 y todos ellos comparten los valores y características aquí enunciados y por ello todos podemos y debemos contribuir a su preservación.


Watch the video: What is Valcamonica Rock Art Field School (November 2021).