The motives on the Laces Menhir

What is a menhir?

A menhir is a towering stone block erected by humans in prehistoric times that often represents humans. The word „menhir“ derives from Breton and means: maen stone‘,hir long. Other names for menhirs are picture stones and figure stones. Menhirs represent a widespread phenomenon of the Copper Age between the 4th and the 3rd millennium BC that is known nearly all around Europe. We can distinguish six groups in the Alpine arc:

  • Lunigiana group (Liguria, Tuscany)
  • Aosta-Sion group (Aosta, Valais)
  • Valcamonica-Valtellina group (Valcamonica, Valtellina)
  • Lessinia group (western Veneto)
  • Brentonico group (southern Adige Valley)
  • Adige Valley group (South Tyrol, Val di Non, Valle del Sarca)

The menhirs of the Adige Valley group

22 menhirs have been discovered in 11 different places in South Tyrol and Trentino so far: two in nearby Vezzano, others in Tecelinga, Velturno, Laion, Fiè allo Sciliar, Santa Verena, Termeno, Revò, four in Lagundo and eight in Arco. They belong to the so-called Adige Valley group due to the motifs on the clothes and the represented objects. The menhirs of the Adige Valley group consist of so-called male, female and neutral menhirs. The face is occasionally carved out as are the breasts for so-called female menhirs. Typical for the Adige Valley group are the vertical stripes, which can be interpreted as the representation of a cloak. The outer garment of Ötzi the Iceman, which is composed of several alternating light and dark fur strips, could be such a cloak. Male menhirs are characterized by cloakpins (hammer head pins) and a garland-shaped belt. They also carry axes, daggers as well as bow and arrow above the belt. Female menhirs have a necklace and double spirals.

The motifs on the Laces menhir

In addition to the iconographic characteristics of the Adige Valley group the Laces menhir also shows symbols of the Lombardic Valcamonica group. That proves that the cultural areas of the mountain region of today’s Stelvio National Park have been connected with each other for thousands of years. The Laces menhir shows different development phases, which is why some motifs overlap. The provincial archeologist Dr. Hubert Steiner describes them in the following way:

Front:

Motifs of the 1st phase

In the oldest phase, the picture stone was equipped with the “standard representations“ of a male menhir of the Adige Valley group:

  • There is a ruffled belt in the lower part.
  • There are two vertically positioned and laterally placed axes to the left and two to the right above the belt. There is probably another one at the upper edge.
  • Above the belt there are two horizontally positioned daggers pointed to the center. The dagger on the left with midrib has a globular pommel and is filled with dimples. The dagger on the right with a mushroom-shaped pommel represents a so-called „Remedello dagger".
  • A vertically positioned dagger appears in the upper part of the picture stone.
  • Another status symbol is the centrally positioned object: It is either a hammer head pin or a hammer axe, which is more probable due to the size. The objects are partially accompanied by rows of dimples.
  • The upper right half shows several oblique grooves that lead to the narrow side of the picture stone and are filled with rows of lines. They undoubtedly represent a garment apparently worn open at the front.

Motifs from other phases

The following development phases show influences of the Valcamonica-Valtellina group. The representations partially overlap, which indicates that they developed during different phases.

  • The hunter with bow and arrow is a representation that is unique for the Adige Valley group.
  • Behind him there is a rectangular-oval shaped object filled with dots that is probably a net for hunting.
  • There is a figure in front of the hunter.
  • Two deer are represented on the right side.
  • There is probably a dog above the dagger on the left side.
  • A cart was identified above it, which, however, remains questionable. They probably are two other animals.

Back

The backside is characterized by the typical representations of the Adige Valley group: the cloak and the belt. The representation of the suns and the large X, however, remains exciting. Prof. Dr. Annaluisa Pedrotti refers to the possibility that the backside of the menhir could have been used as a female figure stone. In this case, the suns stand for the breasts. However, these symbols might also refer to a sun phenomenon that takes places every year one day before Christmas at the menhir’s site of the find at the Church of Our Dear Lady on the Bichl.

Dagger
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Terra Raetica

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