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Sottolaiolo – big warriors

Paspardo has some rather extraordinary warrior depictions—large armed characters that Giovanni Marro first noted and published in the 1930s. So far, nothing quite comparable has been found anywhere else in Valcamonica.

The figures measuring between 90 cm and 140 cm in height, made almost entirely in outline, create a really unique style. There are six in Paspardo: one on rock 5 of Dos Sottolaiolo, two on rock 54 of Vite and three on rock 4 of In Valle. A similar but incomplete figure can be seen on rock 50 of Naquane.

These giant-like warrior-figures of Paspardo are depicted with face in profile, torso and legs in outline, conspicuous genitals and armament, typically a spear, “ox-hide” shield and sword or knife hung on belt. The knives are of the Benvenuti type, of palaeo-Venetian culture, suggesting a chronology going back to the late VI century BC.

The so-called “ox skin” shields are undoubtedly remarkable, but do not constitute a precise dating element due to the frequency with which they appear in all phases of the rock imagery from the Late Bronze Age (XII to X centuries BC) until the outset of Roman dominance in the I century BC. The scholar Ludwig Pauli pointed out it is a traditional weapon of the alpine people of Raetia, which is well supported by both archaeological finds and the rock engravings of Valcamonica.

The rock engravings here often show “ox-skin” shields front-on. The descriptive name is due to a resemblance to a stretched ox-hide while it is being dried. There are also concave shaped side-on images. Such concavity may reflect the way skins were stretched on wooden frames. Ethnographic comparison shows similarities with leather shields used by some African or indigenous American people. This concavity can also be seen in shields depicted on the “Bormio Relief” in Valtellina.

The shield of Hallein, found in a Celtic necropolis dated to the V century BC, has a tapering fusiform umbo (boss or knob) at the centre, an iron lamina covering, raised edges and four circular plates that are also found on the shield of Bormio. These portray tightening studs that would have had a purpose on shields actually covered in hide. These do not show up in the rock imagery due to the schematic nature of the engraving technique.

In the rock imagery from the VII to VI centuries BC, the umbo is round, but there are instances that are slightly more recent than the giant-warrior figures that also grasp |ox-skin” shields with fusiform umbros, such as the small figures of warriors at Dos Cuì.