The stone carvings of Val Camonica constitute one of the largest collections of prehistoric petroglyphs in the World. The collection was recognized by Unesco in 1979 and was Italy's first recognized World Heritage Site. Unesco has formally recognized more than 140,000 figures and symbols, but new discoveries have increased the number of catalogued incisions to between 200,000 and 300,000. The petroglyphs are spread on all surfaces of the valley, but concentrated in the areas of Darfo Boario Terme, Capo di Ponte, Nadro, Cimbergo and Paspardo.
Many of the incisions were made over a time period of eight thousand years preceding the Iron Age (1st millennium BC), while petroglyphs of the last period are attributed to the people of Camunni, mentioned by Latin sources. The petroglyph tradition does not end abruptly. Engravings have been identified (although in very small number; not comparable with the great prehistoric activity) from the Roman period, medieval period and are possibly even contemporary, up to the 19th century. Most of the cuts have been made using the "martellina" technique and lesser numbers obtained through graffiti.
The earliest rock carvings date back to epipaleolithic (or Mesolithic, 8th-6th millennium BC), several millennia after the retreat of the glacier that covered the Val Camonica (Würm glaciation). Those carvings were the work of passing nomadic hunters, following the migrations of their prey. The figures represented in fact depict large animals such as deer and elk, which are the typical prey of that period. Similar representations are present in the town park stone carvings of Luine (comune of Darfo Boario Terme).
During the Neolithic period (5th-4th millennium BC approximately), agricultural practices spread in Val Camonica, correlated with the formation of the first sedentary settlements. In the field of rock art, human figures and sets of geometric elements, such as rectangles, circles, and dots, constitute the main elements of the compositions and complete the symbolic meaning of the antropomorphical petroglyphs. Similar carvings are present in the Regional Reserve of Rock Engravings of Ceto, Cimbergo, and Paspardo.
Discovery and Evaluation
The first documented report of the engraved stones dates back to 1909, when Walther Laeng pointed out to the National Committee for the Protection of Monuments two boulders decorated around Cemmo (Capo di Ponte). Only in the 1920s, however, did the rocks pique the interest of scholars, including Giuseppe Bonafini, geologist Senofonte Squinabol, and, since 1929, Torinese anthropologist Giovanni Marro and Florentine archaeologist Paolo Graziosi.
Soon numerous engravings were also discovered on the surrounding rocks and research was conducted not only by Marro, but also by Raffaele Battaglia for the Superintendent to the Antiquities of Padua. After its inclusion by UNESCO as World Heritage Site number 94, continuing research has further broadened the heritage rocks recorded.