Massi di Cemmo, the Italian Stonehenge

Two engraved boulders lie in a green hollow, part of a megalithic sanctuary dating back to the early Copper Age: the place is better known as the Massi di Cemmo National Archaeological Park; Cemmo is a little village near Capo di Ponte. Situated in a place called "Pian delle Greppe" and founded in 2005, the site was first described by scholars in 1909, when Walter Laeng noted it as remarkable in prehistoric European rock art. A few years later, in 1914, it was the first mention on the Italian Touring Club guidebook. The typology of signs carved on the boulders and on the steles suggests a ritual practice, connected to the worship of the ancestors or of mythical heroes.

THE SITE The boulders fell down from above because of a landslide, or maybe during an earthquake, at the beginning of the Holocene and they were engraved by the Camunni in the third millennium BC. The sanctuary lies in a glacial basin, in a place once occupied by a small ephemeral pond.

THE EXCAVATIONS A systematic excavation campaign started in 1995, during the construction of the new road to Pescarzo. The surveys showed a complex site, with evidence of human presence from the Ancient Mesolithic (9th millennium b.C. - levelled floor, holes, fragments of stone tools), and Neolithic (4th millennium b.C. - pottery pieces found at the base of the Boulder N. 1). Around the two big boulders, the archaeologists found 19 inscribed stones (steles or standing stones), put on the ground during the Copper age, now set up in the exhibition rooms housed in the MuPre - Museum of Prehistory, at Villa Agostani, Capo di Ponte.

THE SANCTUARY The cult site was built in the Copper Age, when the megalithic sanctuary was erected. The place is surrounded by three plough furrows, maybe evidence of a foundation rite. A wall fence was built during the Bronze Age, 2.5 meters wide, with remains of the Copper Age carved stones included in the stonework. During the Iron Age, two thousand years later, the sanctuary was reshaped, with the reconstruction of the wall fence, larger and longer, and the installation of a new floor. Some figures were added on the stones. Eventually, during the Roman Age or in the early Middle Ages the steles were put on a dug and covered, perhaps during a disanoint ceremony, in order to remove their sacredness, and buried since their discovery a few years ago. But the veneration of the stones, the so-called saxorum veneratio, was still practiced by the locals in the following centuries. Not far from the sanctuary is Pieve of San Siro, the saint considered the first man to bring the Christianity to Valle Camonica.

BOULDER N.1 The two boulders were carved in place; a great number of wild figures in them, such as deer, boars, chamois, ibexes, arranged inside a composition, carved on the rock surface supposedly by a unique artist's hand. On the right, daggers and sheaths overlap dogs. We don't know exactly why the ancient Camunni often engraved in superimposition, at that time or during the following centuries: maybe it was because the action of engraving was considered more important than a simple figure drawing.

BOULDER N.2 The boulder shows the depiction of linear human beings, weapons, halberds or spear axes and daggers, with a triangular blade, similar to those found on a burial Copper Age site near the little town of Remedello, Brescia. On the left site there is a rare ploughing scene, with two ploughs dragged by oxen. You can also see lines of animals under a big radiant circle, perhaps the sun, put on the top of the complex, that dominates the entire composition. This is a sort of schematic representation of the world and the society, separated into three different categories: farmers, warriors, maybe priests or shamans, a common pattern in the Indo-European conception of the world.


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Daniela Rossi Saviore

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