Middle Ages in Valcamonica rock art

Between Devotion and Heresy

Crosses, inscriptions and other historical signs from Campanine, Cimbergo, Natural Rock Art Reserve of Ceto, Cimbergo, Paspardo (Valcamonica)The prehistoric engraving tradition of the Camunni was already on the decline when the Romans conquered the Valley (16 b.C.). This had been caused by cultural influences from the outside (Etruscans and Celts) and by an internal ideological exhaustion. Once the Romans offered them a higher standard of civilization, the Camunni did not have any reason left to carry on the rock art tradition.

It would be wrong though to think that this art stopped completely. It was more like a suspension. Underneath the acceptance of new Roman religious rituals (the Minerva Sanctuary is the best example of this) hatched the prehistoric ideology, silently passed on during the centuries of the Gothic, Lombards and Franks dominations, sometimes emerging in the most classical way: rock art.

The periodical resurfacing of the rock engraving tradition is a clear sign of the secular wilfulness to submit to any ideological imposition. Christianity could not cancel it and so it tried to incorporate it into its own philosophy. Thus since the High Middle Age on the engravers went to the rocks again, mostly in the area called Campanine (municipality of Cimbergo) where we can find, side by side and sometimes even overlapping, historic and prehistoric engravings, divided by centuries in time.

Finding historic and prehistoric signs on the rocks is a proof that, although weakened, the rock art tradition lived on. The Christian symbols (crosses and keys mostly) were made above the prehistoric signs, revealing an attempt to exorcize the pagan deities and to consecrate an area that clearly kept a spiritual meaning through the centuries.