Plovbilleder i Val Camonica


  • P.V. Glob


Glob, Plough Carvings, Val Camonica, plough pictures


Plough Carvings in the Val Camonica

One of the regions in Europe richest in prehistoric rock carvings is to be met with around the little North Italian village of Capo di Ponte. This village Iies in the middle of an extensive valley, the Val Camonica, which runs up thirty miles northeast and north from the lake of Iseo, to lose itself among the uplands of the Tyrolean Alps. In pictorial richness this area is only rivalled by the partly contemporary rock carvings of Bohuslan and Østfold, in the frontier regions of Norway and Sweden by the waters of the Kattegat. Resemb­lances between the repertoires of these two regions, over a thousand miles away as the crow flies, reflect common origins.

The rock-carving areas, which almost all Iie in the immediate vicinity of Capo di Ponte, can be found west of the river Oglio, which traverses Val Camonica, near Cemmo and Ponte di San Rocco, and towards the east upon the mountain slopes by Ronchi di Zir, Scale di Cimbergo, Naquane, Zurla and Nadro1). Among the numerous pictures there are a few ploughing scenes which will be discussed here. Two of these scenes have been briefly mentioned previously, but with inaccurate descriptions of important details.

Pictures of ploughs are only with certainty found in two localities, one picture at a third location being more doubtful. An interesting plough scene is to be found on a smooth stretch of rock sloping towards the east immediately to the west of Ponte di San Rocco (Figs. 1-2). The portrayal is somewhat schematic and in several places connected detail is lacking. Three male figures can be seen, one in front of and one behind a pair of animals, donkeys or mules, between which is pictured a stave ard 2), while behind them goes the third figure. The first man, holding in one hand a hoe-Iike implement and in the other a bent stick which extends down to the head of one of the animals, appears to be leading them forward. The two animals must certainly be regarded as harnessed to the ard, even though this is not connected with them by a yoke or any other form of pulling arrangement. Similarly the man in the middle, who has one arm stretched out in front and the other behind, must be considered as the plougher, even though he does not in fact grasp the handle. In front of him there is a schematic sketch which resembles an unfinished plough-picture. The last figure is holding with both bands the haft of a hoe of the same type as that held by the first man. It would appear from his forward-bent posture that the hoe is in use. The fact that all these figures are part of the same scene is shown by their identical style and by the technique with which they are carved, full sur­face flaking, some few millimeters deep. Other figures on the same rock surface, of quadrupeds, are all executed in a coarse pricking technique and have therefore no connection with the plough scene.

Another less certain plough picture can be found in the bottom corner of a large boulder decorated with carvings in a vineyard near Cemmo about 600 ms. southwest of the scene described above (Fig. 3) 3). Here at the top is seen a group of two oxen yoked to a very schematically carved four-wheeled cart, and beneath are two oxen in the same style, connected by a yoke from which there extends to the rear a long pole or a plough-beam. Of the actual plough, the handle or the share, there is nothing to be seen, but at the rear end of the pole a short line runs obliquely downward and forward. It has not been painted on the illustration reproduced here (Fig. 3), as it is a natural crack in the rock, but there is of course no reason why it should not have been regarded by the sculptor as representing the ard-share, parti­cularly if the rock carvings were originally painted.

While both these ard pictures are, like those from Bohuslan, viewed from the side 4), two newly discovered plough pictures (Figs. 4-5) give a bird's-eye view, in the same way as the representations in the region of Monte Bego in the Alpes Maritimes near the French-ltalian frontier 5). They are found carved on a little rock-surface on Scale di Cimbergo about 1 km. southeast of the pictures recorded above and a good 2000 feet higher. Here can be seen two spans of oxen ploughing at right angles to one another. The oxen are connected by a yoke, from which a beam extends at right angles to the rear with, at the end, the backwards-bent stilt and the forward-turning ard-share. Between these pictures and inwards from them there are two figures of unknown meaning (perhaps representing men or razors), while to the left there is a picture of a single ox (Fig. 4). Above the upper ox on the picture on the right there are traces of an incomplete figure (Fig. 5, drawn in with dotted lines). These carvings are executed in a coarse pricking technique. Here too it is probable that it is the stave-ard which is illustrated. The backward-bent stilt of the same type as on the ard from Ponte di San Rocco (Figs. 1-2) is worthy of note.

These plough pictures from Scale di Cimbergo differ in every particular from the other carvings in Val Camonica, but ·resemble so closely the repre­sentations around Monte Bego (Fig. 6) that they must have been carved by someone who knew the particular conventions in use there and who probably had himself previously carved in that locality, which lies about 300 miles southeast of Capo di Ponte. Two factors are incontravertible evidence of this connection: firstly the direction of view mentioned above; and secondly the fact that the oxen are shown in the same extremely stylized form as in the latest phase of the Monte Bego representations, a phase which is particularly frequently found in the Val delle Meraviglie but which is also known from Val Fontanalba, where the earlier forms predominate (Fig. 7)6). An exception is, however, provided by the two figures of unknown origin (Fig. 4), which belong to the repertoire of Val Camonica.

Parallellism between the two areas has frequently been emphasized pre­viously 1), but first now have we a representation which establishes a clear connection between the two. In this connection the chronological . relationship of these fields of rock carvings is of particular interest. The earliest carvings around Monte Bego can be dated on a basis of the types of weapons illustrated, in particular halberds and short swords, to the middle of the second millenium B. C., while the latest carvings in the Val Camonica must be attributed to the first millenium B. C. by comparison with similar representations on 9 situlae from North ltaly 6). To this may be added the agreement between the instrument held in the bands of the dancing gods at Salite delle Zurla (Fig. 8) and the similar instruments held by figures represented on a bronze bucket from Sesto Calendo 7). But a certain number of the types of weapons illustrated suggest a considerably earlier date for the earliest carvings at Val Camonica, and it would thus seem that the two areas of rock carvings meet in time about the year 1000 B.C. 8).

That the Monte Bego region was thus succeeded as the most important site for carvings in the living rock by Val Camonica is probably the result of the transfer of the mountain religion which was formerly associated with Monte Bego to the mountain of Concarena, which completely dominates the valley around Capo di Ponte. The connection between mountains and rock carving is most clearly seen in the region of Monte Bego, where all the pictures are carved some six thousand feet above sea level, and moreover in the valleys which point up towards the peak, with which noticeable natural phenomena such as sudden cloud formations and thunderstorms are connected. Around the jagged peaks of Concarena, which nowadays are never climbed from the Val Camonica face, the same natural phenomena are found, but here the rock carvings lie right down ·in the valley bottom. That mountains of unusual form and prone to unusual cloud-formations were looked upon as the dwelling­places of gods, or as their occasional seats, is shown by the innumerable myths associated with many mountains in Europe and Asia 9). It is wellknown that the Greek mountain deity, Zeus, had his dwelling upon the massive snowclad mountain of Olympus on the border between Thessaly and Macedonia, where other Greek gods later also were given a home 10). In Italy, too, the supreme Roman deity, Jupiter the god of the heavens, dwelt upon the peaks and in the high places 11). In the Pre-roman period he was particularly worshipped as the protector of agriculture and of stock-keeping, and thunder and lightning and the rain which followed upon them were regarded as the manifestation of his powers. At Monte Bego these natural phenomena are associated with a wealth of carvings from the Bronze Age which almost without exception deal with agriculture and stock-keeping. Representations of human figures are extremely rare in this region, with the exception of those shown together with agricultural implements. Only a few carvings of human figures are known 12) but among them is one of a frightful face of a god (Fig. 9). It is to be seen carved in a »rock-wave« in Val delle Meraviglie and stands in solitary majesty flanked by two supporters, on the one side a dagger and on the other the sign for an ox. As the dagger or the halberd may represent a thunderbolt we have here perhaps a "Jupiter portrait" from the latter half of the second millenium B. C. In the Val Camonica the ancient cult of the farmer and the stock-keeper continues, but here other gods are worshipped as well, the god of war assuming a position of prominence. The rock carvings of Monte Bego and Val Camonica would thus seem to bear witness to a "Jupiter-cult" in Bronze-Age and Iron-Age Italy.

P. V. Glob





Glob, P. (1954). Plovbilleder i Val Camonica. Kuml, 4(4), 7–17. Hentet fra