Articolo in corso di stampa sugli atti del Congresso internazionale “Représentations d’astres, d’amas stellaires et de constellations dans la préhistoire et dans l’antiquité” tenutosi presso il Musée Départemental des Merveilles, in Tenda (F) dal 24 al 27 settembre 2012.
Archaeoastronomical hypothesis about the “Capitello dei Due Pini”, Val Camonica, Italy
Mario Codebò, Henry De Santis
Une étude pluriannuel d’archéoastronomie a démontré que le Gravure Camun
du Soleil, dans le Capitello
des Deux Pins, en localité Plas (Val Camonica, Italie), peut
être interprété comme une représentation stylisée
de l'excursion annuelle du Soleil
le long de le profile ouest de l’horizon visible - le coucher du
Soleil aux équinoxes et des solstices - et le mouvement
Uno studio archeoastronomico pluriennale ha dimostrato che il petroglifo camuno del Sole, presso il Capitello dei Due Pin in località Plas (Val Camonica, Italia)i, può essere interpretato come una rappresentazione stilizzata dell'escursione annua del Sole sul profilo occidentale dell'orizzonte visibile - i tramonti agli equinozi ed ai solstizi - e del movimento apparente lunare intorno all'astro diurno. Si è anche constatato che gli ultimi raggi del Sole al tramonto durante il solstizio estivo illuminano la sola parte superiore del Capitello dei Due Pini, ove è rappresentato il disco solare. Gli autori ritengono che ciò, unitamente ad altri elementi, confermi l’interpretazione, già proposta da altri in precedenza, della località Plas come antico luogo di culto del Sole.
archaeoastronomical research focused on Camunian site
Plas, marked by very beautiful engravings (picture 1),
was proposed for the first time by Elena Gervasoni in
1997. At that time, she invited
Picture 1: The
engravings of Plas (drawing by
While the 1997 survey ended with a first contact on the environment and with measuring about two churches’ orientation, Codebò thought to find in the site Plas the typical characterizations of prehistoric cult, basing on similar experiences (Codebò and Michelini, 1997a, pp. 341-358; Codebò, 1999). The characterizations are: rise on surrounding ground, panoramic view, heathen frequentation, and Christianization marks.
After studying the site’s geomorphology, with a steep left mountainside, and after considering the tradition of a sacred wedding between the male principle of Pizzo Badile Camuno and the female principle of Concarena, we thought Concarena were the focus of ancient observations (tradition of the wedding is reported by Fratti and Gervasoni; meteorological observations reported in Priuli, 1983, picture n. 1 and Brunod 1997, picture n. 23; astronomical observations reported in Beretta, 1997, pag.68).
After that, Barale and Codebò found a similar mountain hierogamy in the
We observed that behind Concarena’s outline we can watch the whole journey of sunset during the year and, given the fact that two engravings show the Sun, we concluded that it was the same Sun the object of the cult.
Calzolari, Codebò, Fratti and Gervasoni
were already able to observe, during September 1997, the evening projection of
light and shadows behind the Concarena. This vision
could have been intended as an epiphany of the mountain Gods, like the one that
it is possible to observe sometime behind the
Picture 2: The
Sun’s (Camunian) Engraving (photo by
Picture 3: The
Sun’s (Camunian) Engraving (drawing by
The further step
wanted us to verify our hypothesis and understand the reason for the three Sun
rings, instead of one. So we began to observe and take pictures of the Sun
during three key moments: equinox and solstices. This process went through
winter solstice in 1997- summer solstice 1999. We used the following tools: graduated
spherical surveyor’s cross with direct reading of
realized that on equinoxes (data of
Picture 4: The
equinoctial sunset (photo by
With the height above the skyline of 7°, the astronomical azimuth is 264° nowadays.
The magnetical azimuth resulted to be 260°.
Near winter solstice
The magnetical azimuth was measured in 225°. Unfortunately, as the time of sunset wasn’t recorded we couldn’t measure the astronomical azimuth.
Picture 5: The
winter solstitial sunset (photo by
solstice (data of
The magnetical azimuth resulted to be 289°.
Picture 6: The
summer solstitial sunset (photo by
The range between the point of equinoctial sunset and the point of summer solstitial sunset was measured by means of our graduated spherical surveyor’s cross in 29°, while the range resulting from the difference between the astronomical azimuths was 26.5°.
We can therefore draw that the average range is 27,75°, with a standard deviation of ± 1,25° nowadays.
It results that solstitial setting amplitudes in winter and in summer (that is the two horizon arcs between the equinoctial, winter and summer solstitial sunset points), are 34,5° and 27,75° nowadays, while the total arc, which shows the annual local apparent range of the Sun, is 62,25° (the magnetical arc is 64°).
This is also what you can draw from the engraving which we are examining: the two angles between the central beam of rays, the one on the left and the other on the right (looking at the engraving) are, respectively, 32° and 28,5°, while the total angle is 60,5°.
We think that these data ratify our first hypothesis: the Sun’s (Camunian) Engraving reproduces, as stylized shape but with the quite same angular distance, the three basic sunset points (of equinoxes and of summer and winter solstices) on the local skyline.
Small rings close to the big one could represent: 1. Sun position during equinox and solstices; 2. Sun position at sunrise, midday and sunset; 3. Moon extreme positions at sunset, reached every 18,61 years, when orthiva and occasa amplitudes are broader than Sun amplitudes during solstices. In these situations, we think that they represent the option No 3rd, i.e. the Moon to rise and set southern and northern than the Sunsets during winter and summer solstices.
Options 1 and 2
don’t look likely, because option 1 has already been represented by the light
behind the rings, while option 2 is difficult, because of the morphology of the
land, with a bad vision during sunrise. So we think that option 3 is the one
pictured on Plas’ rock. Also considering that Moon
extreme positions were the most observed during megalithism in
As a further proof
of our interpretation, on
We also watched a field (picture 7), at the bottom of the valley, ploughed in a horseshoe way (Brunod 1997, picture n. 5). That made us think that similar engravings- Caven 3, Cornal, Borno 1, Ossimo 2- could represent the whole land-sky environment (see Brunod, 1997, pictures 74-75).
ploughed in a horseshoe way from Plas (photo by
Before the book of Brunod, Cinquetti, Pia and Veneziano printed in
2008, we thought that reproducing the different range of sunset amplitudes of
wintry and summery solstice could have been realized using four wooden posts,
one of them intended as an observation point and the other three posted where
the three sunsets fallen. Using a rope, it was possible to take measurings of
the amplitudes, and reducing the whole structure it was possible to obtain a
“circular field”, where the proportions were the same. In this way, the rope
was a measuring unit for the engraving. We can remember that similar, but more
complex, explanations, have been proposed by A. Thom about the megalitical alignments in Britain and Scotland (Thom, 1971;
Hadingham, 1978; Proverbio, 1989; Cossard,
1993) and by C. A. Newham about Causeway Post Holes in Stonehenge (Hadingham, 1978; Proverbio, 1989). Despite the experts
don’t accept anymore the idea of “megalithical yard”,
But nowadays we agree with the hypothesis of Brunod et Alii (Brunod, Cinquetti, Pia and Veneziano 2008) that the ancient engravers used – like a gnomon – the shadow of a wooden (or by some other material) stick leaned against the centre of the main ring and against the ground with an inclination of 45°. Brunod, Cinquetti, Pia and Veneziano showed that in these conditions the shadow of the “gnomon” is superimposed to the central beam of rays at the equinoxes and it touches the internal one of each beam of rays at the solstices. This is the simplest and the most careful method to engrave this figure! Thanks to this idea, our hypothesis that the Sun’s (Camunian) Engraving is a portrayal and a stylization of the sunset in its four main annual times – i.e. the equinoxes and the solstices – becomes probable and a probability can be calculated: it would be interesting to calculate how much it is probable that the angular range of the three beams of rays coincide randomly with the angular range of the three equinoctial and solstitial Sunset points on the visible skyline. But we do not agree with the hypothesis of Brunod, Cinquetti, Pia and Veneziano that the engravers’ aim was to build a sundial measuring not daily-time but seasonal-time. In their book 2008, the four authors write that the engravers could use the movement of the stik’s shadow to know the dates of equinoxes and solstices: but why to use this strange kind of sundial instead of to look at the sunset positions on the skyline? The skyline in front of Plas is the best yearly sundial and seasonal calendar because it allows to determine and to count each day of a year much more carefully by means of the shifting of the sun-setting position from one solstice to the other. Therefore, we think that the Sun’s (Camunian) Engraving is not a yearly sundial, although it was built using the gnomon shadow, but a stylized symbol (religious?) of the Sun.
that the Sun’s (Camunian)
Engraving is a jewel or a neck-lace, especially of a Goddess. In our view this is not
in contrast with the precise astronomical significance as we proposed here. In
fact, as is known, according to the orthodox Freudian psychoanalysis, the
original symbolic representation of an "object" or of a pregnant
event undergoes with time a separation from '"object" and its
portrayal, it gets an autonomous development and, at the end, the meaning
original symbol is completely forgotten or "repressed" while the
symbol acquires its apparently independence. Therefore, the original
relationship with the '"mother object" is recognizable only analytically
In our case, although in the presence of a very pregnant less motivation drive, we can assume a similar mechanism: forgotten with the passage of time and generations its original astronomical and religious significance, the Sun’s (Camunian) Engraving could have turned into a mere ornament, thus losing the immediate contact with the event (astronomical) that had generated. A similar fate might have had the swastika from its original meaning (heavenly probably) to its spread as a simple ornamental figure (on vases, etc.).
Therefore, we do not reject the explanation of the Sun’s (Camunian) Engraving as a jewel or a neck-lace, but we assert that firstly this engraving was probably a stylization of an astronomical and religious phenomenon (i.e. the yearly shift of the sun-setting point on the local skyline) and that it became a jewel or a neck-lace afterwards and as a result of its religious meaning, just like the cross in Christianity.
During our surveys, Adriano Gaspani studied as the same engraving as some others, which can suggest astronomical interpretation (Gaspani 2000, pp. 32-39). He suggest that it symbolizes a three-tails-comet between two stars. He names also two other interpretations: a solar eclipse and a three-planets-conjunction. As the same engraving is reproduced in other rocks (he mentions ten of them), also far from Plas place, he suggest that it symbolizes an extraordinary event “…really watched in the sky by far peoples with different cultures…”. We think these are weak interpretations, because they are founded only on a morphological likeness of a not just demonstrated but only guessing heavenly event. Really the presence of the same – or, better, alike - engraving in far cultural areas put some questions and force to regard it as the representation of an important and diffused “thing” (like, for instance: the calcolithic dagger with triangular blade, central rib and half-Moon shaped pommel; the tongue shaped axe; the metal double spiral; the pintaderas; etc.). But we think that the collected (by us and by Brunod, Cinquetti, Pia and Veneziano) and up-discussed data back up more strongly the hypothesis that it symbolizes the sunset, which was much watched during the Metal Age, like the European and Mediterranean megalithic monuments show. If a surveys in these other places would show similar bearings towards the sunset (or the sun-rising) and similar correspondences between engraving angles and Sun movements on skyline, this hypothesis would be strengthened. Unluckily some of the more important menhirs with the alike engraving (as, for instance, Caven) were removed and it’s not possible to restore their exact position any longer. People who will decide a this kind survey in the future, will be obliged to get their data only from irremovable engravings.
The question of equinoxes: wilful or random?
During the archaeoastronomical
international meeting Archaeoastronomy: a
debate between archaeologists and astronomers looking for a mutual method
taken place in Genoa (Italy) on 08-09 February and in Sanremo (Italy) on 01-
A first method is to recognise, by means of a Polar Star (if there is in that time), the direction N-S, which is the polar axis: its orthogonal line is the direction E-W.
To recognise the North or South Pole in absence of a Polar Star can be made in the following ways:
Conclusions and synthesis
Plas was an exceptional “emplacement” of territory’s control for a wide
beam, guaranteeing not only a visual dominion on fields, pastures and ways of
communication, but also a place for the Copper Aged religious cult of Sun and
visual width on local skyline, on which it was possible to follow the path of
the sun-setting from the winter solstice to the summer solstice and back. The
angular distance between the sun-setting points of solstices and of equinoxes
is quite the same between the three rays bundles of the Sun’s (Camunian) Engraving, which we can
therefore interpret as a stylized portrayal of Sun’s yearly movements. The two
side minor circles may stand for the extreme Moon’s standstills. The engravers
used probably the shadow of a gnomon to engrave it. This engraving became a
“symbol” of the Sun religion and was exported elsewhere. First the Romanization
and than Christianity caused the oblivion of its original astronomical meaning
and this symbol – and many others – became incomprehensible. To understand
prehistoric symbols and civilization we must recover their explanatory keys (
We must thank the
other authors of our first survey
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 tm means the mean time of the local time
zone (different from the local astronomical time tv,
resulted from the time of central meridian of local time zone ± the longitude
of the place, i.e. L.H.A.) while Greenwich time is everywhere UT, or, in
 The two peaks, which appear in a slight alignment with Plas place and of a similar height, aren’t in reality easily distinguishable the one from the other.
 We used the Laskar formula to calculate the variations on the ecliptical obliquity, which modify declination and azimuth of mobile heavenly bodies within about 41 000 years (Meeus 1998 pp. 147-148). On equinoxes, the declination 0° and the azimuth of the Sun remain unchanged.
 orthiva, from Latin ortus = the rising; occasa, from Latin occasus = the setting.
 According some authors it collapsed in Prehistoric times; according others, it collapsed in Medieval times.
 The most conspicuous example of this "work of
removal", completely analogous to that “dream”, is the loss of memory of
the original purpose against the incest of the endogamy’s taboo (S. Freud
 Camunian Sun’s religion.
 We can understand the difficult to interpret
the meaning of a symbol if we think to the Christian cross: if one does not
know the New Testament and the death of
 During Valcamonica Symposium 1999 prof. Anati told us it is present in several European places, included East Europe.
 Very important is Barale’s
discovery that a