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.