The Laces Menhir

The extraordinary history of the find

The menhir found in the church of Our Dear Lady on the Bichl is among the most important archaeological finds in Laces. In July 1992, Dr. Hans Nothdurfter, then area inspector for Val Venosta of the Department for Archaeological Monuments, was responsible for the restauration of both the tower and the church. The altar particularly wakened the interest of the archaeologist: The Gothic altar got a wood panel on all sides during the Baroque period. The wooden altar stone had an opening of about 40 x 40 cm for the reliquary in the form of a square stone slab. In this opening, you could see a garland-shaped belt and a dagger of a menhir whose importance was immediately understood. When the Baroque panel of the Gothic altar was removed, the whole menhir made of Lasa marble came to light. The altar stone was taken from the altar mensa in the presence of numerous scientists and the media and thus the backside was visible for the first time as well. The important find from the Copper Age came to light almost a year after the discovery of Ötzi the Iceman. Even though the majority of menhirs were not found at their original site and despite the fact that some of them had another function when found, the use as an altar stone remains unique. It is not known where the menhir’s original site was but it is presumed that it was not too far away from the church of Our Dear Lady on the Bichl.

What was its original form?

The menhir was knocked into the necessary dimensions to be positioned on the predella. Both the upper and lower part were knocked off and not just by chance: The lower part, which is anchored in the ground in upright position, normally ends in a conic form. The upper part is arch-shaped or has some kind of head. For its new use, it was necessary to get more or less exact edges. The menhir had an original length of more than 2 m, whereas today’s length is just about 1 m.

How old is the Laces menhir?

This unique monument was created between the late 4th and the early 3rd millennium BC and thus during the Copper Age as the last period of the Stone Age is called. It is a testimony of a cult cultivated for generations that was probably centered around an ancestor and hero mythology. It remains unclear for which occasions new objects were again and again inserted in the picture repertoire. They probably represent different generations. The menhir is an indication of the fact that a population group had its religious and political center in and around Laces. It is said that another menhir was found in Laces in the 1970s. It was finally taken abroad but there are no information about the site of the find or the pictorial design of the stone.

The Silandro menhirs

Several menhirs were found on the territory of the neighboring municipality of Silandro some years ago. Today, they are exhibited in Silandro and can be visited. More information can be found here.

What is a menhir?

Menhirs are single standing stones in the form of humans. The so-called figure menhirs are among the most important still preserved works of art of our prehistory. They have been known for more than 100 years, especially in the Mediterranean regions and its adjacent areas. At the end of the Neolithic period, the discovery of copper and later bronze as well as the expansion of trade led to a social, economic and cultural revival in European societies. It seems that an elite class of society developed. Its members carried weapons, tools and jewellery made of metal as status symbols. The new objects also appeared on the menhirs together with other symbols and ornaments: Weapons and jewelry elements are represented like spirals. They are divided into different groups due to regionally different symbols. The Laces menhir belongs to the so-called Adige Valley group together with twelve other South Tyrolean menhirs and seven menhirs from Trentino. They all have vertical stripes that are interpreted as the representation of a fringed cloak. Furthermore, the male stales often show a dagger with a triangular blade (Remedello type). Another group is the Lombardic group of Valcamonica at the Oglio river and of Valtellina. Menhirs always appear as a group, which might be an indication of a politically dominant family. Male steles considerably top all the others both in size and decoration. Menhirs from the Copper Age are testimonies of political and territorial thinking and imply that there were firmly established ritual practices as well as religious centers, which had existed for a long time. It's only in very rare cases that these archaeological features give information about the structure of these sites or about practiced rituals. Menhirs were normally arranged in cellular form in an exposed position and nearby, there is proof of lighting a fire and presenting offerings.

Heroes, gods or ancestors?

These statues were again and again viewed as god images. Sun symbols in combination with represented weapons could be interpreted as male deities that were supplemented by female traits in the course of the Copper Age and whose origins are in earlier Neolithic mother goddesses. In contrast, there is the hypothesis of a close link to the ancestor worship and the heroization or deification of some outstanding dead people. It is, however, undisputed that menhirs represent high-ranking personalities, which can be seen from the weapons and from some kind of ritual robe. It must, however, remain open if single families are to some extent dynastically represented in the groups of steles.
Source: Hubert Steiner: Latsch in der Urgeschichte, Dorfbuch Latsch

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Terra Raetica

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