In September 1995, R. G. Bednarik consented to repeated requests
by German film makers to take part in a project of recording a
‘direct dating’ attempt of rock art in Valcamonica, northern Italy.
After first rejecting several proposals by the firm Mediakonzept,
acting on behalf of the Süddeutscher Rundfunk, Channel 1, he agreed,
on condition that the documentary film would include takes from
the rock art congress in Turin, and that in addition to himself,
other rock art scientists also would be interviewed.
After the television people had delivered their part of the
bargain and filmed proceedings at the international conference,
interviewing palaeoart specialists from Italy, France, India and
Britain, he travelled with them in the European Alps of Italy,
Austria and Germany for a number of weeks.
The initial attempt to date one of the petroglyphs in Valcamonica
failed, because the rock types on which the extensive art of
this Alpine valley is engraved is not suitable for the microerosion
analysis that was to be used in the project.
Fortunately it was realised that the rock type in neighbouring
Valtellina might be better suited, which was confirmed by a brief
visit to the Grosio Rock.
This is a glacier-worn schist barrier overlooking a picturebook
valley setting. Shaped rather like a huge whaleback, there are the
picturesque ruins of a castle adjacent to its southern end,
overlooking a deep and picturesque canyon, and scattered on the
mountain slopes above and opposite are assorted picturesque
villages and hamlets.
A calibration surface was found on a quartz vein fractured by
one of the last boulders the glacier had dragged over the rock.
An anthropomorphous petroglyph also bearing a quartz vein was selected
for the dating attempt, and the result of this blind test was
that the age of the petroglyph is approximately forty per cent
of the age of one of the most recent fractures caused by the glacier.
It is assumed that the glacier last with-drew about 12 000 years BP,
which would imply an antiquity of around 5000 BP for the rock art motif.
At the time of this field work your editor ignored stylistic
elements of archaeologists experienced in Camunian rock art so as
not to be influenced by their opinions.
Subsequently it was revealed that some believe them to be of the
upper Neolithic and about 5200 to 6000 years old, whereas others,
on different stylistic basis, regard them as being only half that
old, c. 3000 years.
Since the true age might be somewhat greater than the
microerosion data would imply (because the calibration surface
may conceivably be slightly older than 12 000 years), this result
is clearly more compatible with the former archaeological school
of thought, and essentially agrees that the particular figure
belongs to the upper Neolithic.
Indeed, it suggests that the petroglyph was made roughly at
the same time as the Iceman met his death just 100 kilometres to
the north, perhaps 5300 years ago.
So the German film makers called their documentary promptly Ötzis
Graffiti (in German, the Iceman is referred to as ‘Ötzi’,
after the Ötztaler Alps where he was found).
What is more important, however, is that in five out of six blind
tests on petroglyphs, in Russia, Italy, Bolivia and Portugal,
the microerosion method produced age estimates that were very close
to archaeological estimates.
In the sixth case, the Côa valley, the results are totally
different, varying by a factor of one to ten, or greater, but
there they agree with the results of other scientific methods
such as radiocarbon analysis.
Robert G. Bednarik