Strange stories

Traces from the past

Rock carvings in the Alps

Published in GralsWelt 22/2002


Since the glacier corpse, now known as "Ötzi", was found, there has been a greater general interest in early life in the Alps. To this day, however, little attention has been paid to a multitude of extremely fascinating testimonies: the rock carvings. GrailWelt editor Siegfried HAGL has dealt with these traces from the past in Austria and Italy.

Since on September 19, 1991 two mountaineers came across the glacier corpse of "Ötzi", a Stone Age Alpine hiker, on the glacier of Hauslabjoch, interest in the prehistoric and prehistoric development of the Alpine region has grown. Various books deal with Ötzi. There are scientific works, imaginative reconstructions of his life, and even memories of past life from that time. A fictional film also shows the fictional last year of this alpine hunter's and shepherd's life.

In addition to this sensational find at 3,279 m altitude in the Ötztal Alps, which gives scientists in-depth knowledge of the equipment and armament of a Stone Age Alpine hunter, there are many other signs that the Alps were settled early on. In summer, hunters and shepherds reached heights of well over 2,000 m and crossed Alpine passes of over 3,000 m. However, at that time the tree line was about 700 m higher than it is today.

These ancient hunters, shepherds, and mineral seekers left their mark; For example, thousands of rock carvings, which are mostly ignored by the many mountaineers who visit the Alps every year. The German-language literature on rock carvings is also sparse.

One can only wonder how little known such interesting places are. For example, the path in the Rofan Mountains from the Guffert Hut (Ludwig Aschenbrenner Hut, 1,475 m) to the Guffert is a much traveled route. Just a few minutes' walk away from the path is a pre-Roman (presumably Etruscan) inscription that only a few mountain hikers know about.

Whoever stands in front of it wonders in astonishment for what purpose such a well-crafted inscription was carved into the rock at this remote location. As long as this Etruscan script cannot be translated (you know the letters, but not the Etruscan language), you can guess what it means.

Austrian rock carvings are more common than mostly assumed and occur mainly in the federal states of Upper Austria (Totes Gebirge) and Salzburg:

Upper Austria: Höll am Warscheneck,

Salzburg: Dürrnberg near Hallein and Ofenauerberg near Golling,

Styria: Notgasse in the Kammergebierge, Ennstal,

Tyrol: Steinberg with Rhaetian inscriptions and symbols.

The fact that rock inscriptions from Roman or Rhaetian epochs also occur suggests an at least early historical age of part of the Austrian rock carvings. Undoubtedly, many representations are old or ancient in their type, but in many cases a high "chronological age" is not very conceivable: in places the stone surfaces are gradually chipping off due to frost, so that old scratches should have already disappeared there. Many house and court stamps with similar style as well as dates from the 17th - 20th centuries (together with political symbols of the modern age) suggest that drawing rocks near mule tracks, alpine paths, smugglers 'and poachers' paths, etc., have also existed in recent years have retained their “prompting character”.

Quoted from: Hans Biedermann “Lexikon der Felsbildkunst”, VfS, Verlag für Collectors, Graz, 1976.

Ancient inhabitants of the Alps

In many places in the Alps there are rock carvings that prove the presence of prehistoric Alpine inhabitants. Some have been known to the locals for centuries; sometimes they have been traced back to devils, witches, or pagans. For a long time scientists paid little attention to them because they were thought to be gimmicks by shepherds who had used them to drive away their boredom.

Such rock engravings have only received increasing attention since the 19th century. Since then, around three hundred thousand prehistoric figures have been discovered, which tell of seven millennia of settlement in the Alps. For the most part, these carved figures were hidden under soil and moss, and it is believed that more are waiting to be discovered.

The most important sites are the Monte Bego and the Camonica Valley. To the north of the Alps, comparable rock carvings are only known again at Tanum (Bohuslän district, Sweden). The (rock drawing) researcher Asilio Priuli names 42 sites on the south side of the Alps. His book, also published in German (4), is mainly limited to Italian-speaking areas. There are a variety of different drawings: people, animals (dogs as hunting companions!), Houses, symbols, devices, riders, fighting warriors, plans of settlements and more from many centuries. The oldest rock carvings found date back to around 5,000 BC. Estimated. There are Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age inscriptions, as well as a few Etruscan inscriptions.

In the first century AD, the era of the "stone draftsman" came to an end, possibly as a result of the Roman conquest of the last isolated mountain valleys. From Christian times there are only isolated representations, for example of crosses and churches - perhaps as “counter-magic” against the “pagan” figures carved into the rocks.

National Park of Rock Carvings

The Camonica Valley, between Lake Iseo and Tonale Pass (province of Brescia, Italy), has been developed over the last few decades and has thousands of rock carvings, some of which are very well preserved. From 1955 a national park of rock carvings was created there, which, like Tanum, was elevated to the status of a World Heritage Site by Unesco.

If you want to get an idea for yourself, the best thing to do is to start your tour in Capo di Ponte in the “Museo Didattico d'Arte e Vita Preistorica”, where Ausilio Priuli, one of the best experts, has his field of activity. Then you visit the nature parks Naquane (Access from the northern exit of Capo di Ponte) and Fope di Nadro (at the village of Nadro, to which a road turns a few kilometers south of Capo di Ponte).

Those who have not seen enough of these two important places can use the information available in the museums to choose other sites for their research, which are scattered throughout the Camonica Valley.

A magical berG

At Capo di Ponto, below Pizzo Badile Camuno (2435 m), there is an extraordinary abundance of rock carvings in the area declared a national park, and one asks why the rock carvings are so concentrated here in particular.

One of Priuli's assumptions is the reason for a strange phenomenon of Pizzo Badile Cammuno: Twice a year, at the time of the equinox, this mountain casts an impressive shadow on the firmament on a few days at sunrise. It is a phenomenon that is known only in a few mountains, and usually not as pronounced. Was this “magical shadow” so impressed the early inhabitants of the Camonica Valley that they celebrated their cults at the foot of the extraordinary mountain and drew their experiences and experiences on rocks?

In order to make the wonders of the valley in this excellent location complete, you may be lucky enough to see a light effect for a few seconds on the opposite Monte Cocarena at sunset, also at the equinox, as can only be seen on a few gaps , and certainly not on this date. Reason enough for the Stone Age hunters to believe in a magical place that is connected to the transcendent?

In addition to the charming landscape of Lake Iseo, where you can swim and hike in the mountains of the Adamello group, the Camonica valley offers several small but interesting prehistoric museums, and especially the rock carvings, which can be found in a unique abundance. Through the national parks, forwards Naquane and Fope di NadroThe drawings are easily accessible to everyone. Every day buses full of Italian school classes come to see the interesting descriptions of prehistoric life in the “Museo Didattico d'Arte e Vita Preistorica” (unfortunately only in Italian) in Capo di Ponto, and the sights in the “Parco Nationale delle” Incisioni Rupestri ”.

Despite this rush, the tourist development in and around Capo di Ponte is not yet exhausted, so that during the high season one is likely to look for a place near Lake Iseo, for example in Boaria Terme (not far from Ponte di Capo) . Have fun!

Monte Bego

A famous site of prehistoric rock carvings in the extreme southwest of the Alpine region, north of Monaco. The actual Monte Bego is 2872 m high, the rock art area around it lies at an altitude of 2,300 - 2,500 m and is covered with snow 8 months a year.

The most important place of discovery is the “valley of miracles” (Val des Meveilles), a zone of plates and blocks decorated with around 40,000 individual images. Traces of living quarters were not found at these heights, so it is assumed that the entire area was the destination of pilgrimages and that the rock carvings are to be regarded as “votive images”. (Quoted from: Hans Biedermann, "Lexikon der Felsbildkunst", VfS, Verlag für Collectors, Graz, 1976).

Also read on the topic “A witch's dance floor in the mountains under“ History of religion ”. 



(1) Hickisch, Burkhard / Spieckermann, Renate: “I was Ötzi”, Herbig, Munich, 1994.

(2) Licht, Hans-Georg: “My encounter with Ötzi”, Schardt, Oldenburg, 1998.

(3) Mündl, Kurt: "Der Ötztal-Mann", Styria, Graz, 1999.

(4) Priuli, Ausilio: “Rock drawings in the Alps”, Benzinger, Zurich / Cologne, 1984.

(5) Priuli, Ausilio: "Il Mondo dei Camuni", Museo d'Arte e Vita Preistorica, Capodiponte, 1995.

(6) Spindler, Konrad: “The man in the ice”, Goldmann, Munich, 1993.