Dance and Geometry between the end of Bronze Age and the beginning of Iron Age (950-750 BC).

The premises of the choreutic tradition of ancient and medieval Europe are to be found in two figurative repertoires developed between the end of Bronze Age and the beginning of Iron Age, more precisely:

A – The figurative repertoire of rock engravings of Valcamonica, of the decorated Stelae of southern Spain and France, the Stelae of Bologna, of Lunigiana (Tuscany) and Daunia (Puglia), lingering manifestations of European megalithism. Anyone, family or friend, had approached the surface of the engraved rocks or the sacred area where the stelae were placed, could have interacted with them according to the liturgy practiced at that time (singing, gestures, dance, prayer, sacrifice).

B – The figurative repertoire of decorated ceramics found in the cremation necropolis of the Midi of France (the so-called Late Urnfields: Moras-en-Valloire, Vendres, Camp Allaric, Vidauque, Cailhac, Vaucluse, Villeplaine, Villement, Las Fados, Queroy , Rancogne, etc.), the Proto-Etruscan one (Cuma, Sala Consilina, Pontecagnano, Veio, Montalto di Castro, Campo Reatino, Marsiliana d’Albegna) and Alpine (Bourget, Sesto Calende). The fact that these vases and decorated plates were part of the outfit that accompanied the deceased in the world of the dead, leads us to believe that no living being, after the funeral ritual, could have access to such images, whose use therefore became an exclusive prerogative of the spirit of the deceased. The dance represented on the sacred support would thus have continued to dance only in the presence of the deceased, cheering him up until the dawn of time.

moras e ossimo 12
1 .Plate of Moras-en-ValIoire (Drome, 9th-8th century BC). Its reconstruction took place starting from the fragments recovered in the archaeological excavation conducted by A. Nicolas between 1968 and 1971 (Nicolas, A., Combier J., 2009). The documentation relating to the ceramic finds recovered in this as many contemporary archaeological sites in Southern France, is the starting point for understanding the gestural and dance forms of protohistoric Europe and the cosmological symbolism associated with them. In the plate five registers separated by a double circular line have been identified. The second register is entirely occupied by a circular dance around a center. For Nicolas and Combier there is no doubt that these vases were not kitchenware, but artifacts on which a form of abstract language was imprinted, which expresses the thought of the man who made them. Each symbolic element, inserted inside a metope, constitutes a separate “statement” that is part of the general “discourse” expressed by the entire dish. 2. An ancestor of Moras’s dance is that represented on the stele of Ossimo nr. 12 (right, second half of the third millennium), whose choreutical scheme is systematically repeated in the engraved rocks found in the last twenty years in Valcamonica. (right, second half of the third millennium), whose choreutical scheme is systematically repeated is systematically repeated in the contemporary engraved stelae found in the last twenty years in Valcamonica.

In the funeral ritual the ceramic object had a double function: the vase was the container of the remains of the deceased collected after its incineration; other vases and plates were part of the outfit with which the deceased would have faced life after death. On the walls of the vases is represented a wide repertoire of formalized gestures: the worshiper (Cosmic Man), the anthropomorphic with the arms forming a cross (Universal Man) or facing the earth (Chtonian Man). These gestural expressions, which are placed inside metopes in association with geometric elements and symbols, are part of the strips placed on the bulge of the vase or the inside of the plate. The recent research carried out on the Hopscotch Game (Ragazzi, 2015), in which I analyzed the path on which children perform the jumps from one panel to another, has clearly shown how in archaic iconography these geometric elements express the structure, the position and sometimes even the movement of the sky with respect to the observer. Thus, in the dynamics of representation, an important cosmological function is attributed to geometric figures.

bourget e sesto2
1  . Gresine, (Lake of Bourget, Savoy, 8th century BC). The decoration of the small vase, including thin slivers of tin cut and applied to construct the design, is formed by 5 metopes. From the left, 27 lozenges (numerical element) were made in the first metope; the second is an unrecognizable figure; the third is formed by a series of lamellas that form a sort of diagonal grid; the fourth shows a dance performed by four schematic anthropomorphs with the head formed by a lozenge. It may seem that the dancers have been portrayed in motion, but this is due to the fact that the slats have come unstuck and, consequently, moved with respect to the original position; to the right of the dancers is a sort of meander that recalls a swastika; finally, two closed elements that still contain small lozenges (Combier, 1973). 2. Tomb of the Warrior (Sesto Calende, Culture of Golasecca, 6th century BC) Small urn decorated with schematized, ithyphallic human figures, joined by hands. The document is too fragmented for an effective description. At the same time, the presence of a dance scene on a ceramic object in a funeral context – according to R. De Marinis – the tomb contained the burnt remains of the deceased, just as in the French Midi – despite the uniqueness of the document, it widens fully the area of ​​our investigation.

At this particular moment of transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age, the trade routes that connected the eastern coasts of the Mediterranean to the south of Europe were not yet fully open. For this reason, cultural influences were transmitted following the traffic that took place along the land routes. In the archaeological excavations carried out in the lake hamlet of Bourget (Savoy, IX-VII century BC), for example, objects from sites located beyond the Alps have been found, metal artifacts such as double-spiral pendants, snake-arched fibulas , terracotta matrices used to impress the shape of the swastika or concentric circles in ceramics (Bocquet, 1984). The materials we are talking about were the result of a native production whose models often came from distant regions with which there were stable land contacts. The cultural uniformity that is perceived by comparing the figurative documents coming from many areas of Mediterranean Europe, is particularly evident in the dance and gestural scenes represented on ceramics. We can find this formal affinity comparing the dance of the plate of Moras-en-Valloir (IX century BC) with that engraved on the stele Ossimo 12 (Valcamonica, late III millennium BC). The Moras plate is an interesting encyclopedic treatise on the figurative themes of Mediterranean Europe: the worshiper, the swastika, the water bird, the sun, the plowed land, the orthogonal and diagonal cross, the point or the cup, etc. One of the five registers on the plate is entirely occupied by a circular dance which is the central moment of the entire representation.


A more in-depth study of the symbolism and linguistic organization of this plate of Moras-en-Valloire, together with the many other ceramic documents that preserve the images of the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age, would allow us to formulate more likely hypotheses on the meaning, not only of gestures and dances, but of the entire religious thought of protohistoric man.

The context in which the anthropomorphic moves by dancing and making gestures, is a space in which the ritual action is oriented by the presence of cosmological symbols. If we analyze two ceramic plates, one from Campo Reatino (Rieti) and the other from Marsiliana d’Albegna (Savona), we can see that in the central part of the plates two different ways of representing the center (axis mundi) are recognizable, around to which the gestural action develops. In the case of Campo Reatino we see a circular dance performed by six dancers whose gesture is oriented towards the bottom of the bowl, a cup inside which a swastika is stamped. On the contrary, the four anthropomorphic adorants by Marsiliana have the lower part of the body reduced to a simple line that is detached from the cup in the center of the plate. It is probable that with this graphic solution the one who decorated the dish wanted to render, with a simple straight line, the moment of the exit (anodos) of the lower part of the body of the four adoring from the coppella, axis mundi, point of communication between the human world and hell.

reatino e marsiliana
1 – Campo Reatino (Ri, 9th century BC). Bowl with anthropomorphic decoration. The bowl was used as a lid for the vessel that contained the ashes of the deceased. In fact the decoration is present on the bottom of the bowl, not in anticipation of a use for food, but funerary. The gesture of the six anthropomorphs, which is aimed at the swastika placed inside a dimple at the center of the plate (cupmark, axis mundi), expresses a relationship with the region of the dead (from Brusadin, D., 1956). 2 – If in the Campo Reatino bowl there is a static interaction between the circle formed by the six anthropomorphs with the arms turned downwards and the swastika, in the Marsiliana d’Albegna bowl an opposite situation is drawn: the four anthropomorphs with the arms in the pose of the adorant, seem to come out of the cup placed in the center of the plate. Each worshiper is directed to one of the four directions of space. In the scene it is not possible to fix the precise moment of their escape (anodos) from the earth (the cupmark is the axis mundi). The image shows only the upper part of the body of anthropomorphs. The lower one, not yet completely out of the cup, is made only with a line. Between an adorant and the other a small cup was placed which, given the context, cannot be just a decorative element.



Autore: Gaudenzio Ragazzi

(English). My name is Gaudenzio Ragazzi, a long time ago I graduated in Philosophy with a master in History of Theater. To realize my thesis on the "origins of dance", a theme that still today boasts only two or three specialized researchers in the world, I became a scholar of Prehistoric Iconography. In the last thirty years I have not been able to escape the responsibilities of life. So, after the death of my father, I led the family artisan company that produces tailored shirts. A few years ago I decided that it was time to resume my studies and complete the research I had started as a young man (that nobody else had yet completed). Good luck Gaudenzio! Mi chiamo Gaudenzio Ragazzi, molto tempo fa ho conseguito la laurea in Filosofia con specializzazione in Storia del Teatro. Sono diventato uno studioso di Iconografia Preistorica per realizzare la mia tesi di laurea sulle "origini della danza", argomento che ancora oggi vanta nel mondo solo due o tre studiosi di una certa levatura. Negli ultimi trent'anni non ho potuto sottrarmi alle responsabilità della vita. Così, dopo la morte di mio padre, ho guidato l'azienda artigiana di famiglia che produce camicie su misura. Alcuni anni fa ho deciso che era arrivato il momento di riprendere i miei studi e di fare da vecchio quello che non ho potuto fare da giovane (e che nessun altro nel frattempo aveva completato). Buon lavoro Gaudenzio !


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