Addaura Cave Engravings
Rock Carvings at Grotta dell'Addaura and Niscemi Cave.

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Rock engraving from Addaura Cave
showing sacrificial scene.
(c.11,000 BCE).

Addaura Cave Engravings (11,000 BCE)


Location and Discovery
Rock Engravings at Addaura Cave
Related Articles

• For a list of the earliest art in Italy and elsewhere,
please see: Oldest Stone Age Art: Top 100 Works.

• For other important examples of Italian prehistoric art,
please see: Fumane Cave Paintings (35,000 BCE),
and Venus of Savignano (24,000 BCE).

Addaura rock carvings showing the
two prostrate sacrificial victims,
lower centre left.


The Addaura Cave (Grotta dell'Addaura) is an important site of prehistoric art located on the northeast side of Mount Pellegrino on the outskirts of Palermo, in Sicily. In fact, the site is a network of three natural grottos: Addaura Cave I, Addaura Cave II, and Grotta Niscemi. The site's importance is based upon its spectacular rock engravings the earliest of which date to the final phase of Magdalenian art, around 11,000 BCE. The rock carvings depict one of the most enigmatic scenes ever to appear in Paleolithic art - an apparent ritualistic sacrifice or punishment, featuring more than a dozen human figures in acrobatic or dance-like postures. Other petrogylphs in the cave complex feature aurochs, horses, and a deer. For more about the chronology of rock art in Italy, see: Prehistoric Art Timeline (from 2.5 million BCE). Sadly, since 1997, the Addaura caves are no longer open to the public, due to the danger of rockfalls. As of 2012, the site is in disrepair due to vandalism. Stone tools and other artifacts recovered from the cave, including some items of mobiliary art, as well as shards of ancient pottery, are on display at the Regional Archeological Museum at Palermo.

Location and Discovery

Grotta dell'Addaura (comprising the two shelters Addaura I and II) is a small sunlit cave on the slopes of Mount Pellegrino, north of Palermo, to the southeast of Mondello beach. (Note: the name Addaura derives from the Arabic word "al-dawrah" meaning "the circuit".)

It was first discovered just after the war, following the accidental detonation of wartime munitions stored in other caves, nearby. However, it wasn't until 1952 that the rock carvings were found by archeologist Jole Bovio Marconi and Luigi Bernabo Brea. The cave and its engravings were then investigated by Marconi, whose studies were published in 1953.

The following year, the entrance to another small cave (Grotta Niscemi) was discovered close-by. This contained more rock carvings of animals, similar to those discovered at the neighbouring Addaura Cave and also of the Cala dei Genovesi Cave on the island of Levanzo, west of Sicily. Other examples of rock art discovered in the region include the engravings at: Puntali Cave, Sicily; Romito Shelter at Papasidero, Calabria; and the Romanelli and Paglicci caves in Puglia/Apulia. An important contributor to these discoveries of parietal art in Italy, has been Paolo Graziosi Professor of Anthropology at Florence University, who - together with Professor Silvio Pons, Giovanni Marro and Piero Barocelli - founded the Museum of Prehistoric Art of Pinerolo as well as the Anthropological Institute in the Turin University.

Rock Engravings at Addaura Cave

The best known panel of cave art at Addaura features a large group of animal engravings - featuring bison, ibex, aurochs, wild horses and deer - in the middle of which is depicted a group of animated human figures (only one is female), arranged in a circle, surrounding two prostrate figures who are the focus of the scene. These two victims, whose heads are covered, appear to have their feet tied with a rope which is also attached to their neck, causing their backs to arch in a most unnatural and painful manner. It seems they are being made ready for sacrifice by two shamans hovering close-by, watched by the other characters in the circle. A total of sixteen figures are present in the scene, most of whom are depicted in a schematic style (no hands, no feet), while several have an animal-like headdress or mask instead of a head.

Although a number of shamanistic and part-animal part-human figures appear in Stone Age art - as exemplified by "The Sorcerer" in the Sanctuary at the Trois Freres Cave (13,000 BCE) - nothing remotely comparable with Addaura's animated sacrificial scene survives in cave painting or rock carving from the Upper Paleolithic. There are surprisingly few anthropomorphic figures in Franco-Cantabrian cave art, or in that of central and eastern Europe. Further afield, the only tradition of animated figurative scenes is to be found in Aboriginal rock art in Australia. These occur in Kimberley Rock art, in the form of the famous Bradshaw Paintings (c.15,000 BCE), now known as "Gwion art".

Related Articles

For more about parietal and mobiliary artworks created in Italy and elsewhere in Europe during the Stone Age, including the eras of Mesolithic art as well as Neolithic art, please see the following articles.

Abstract Signs
Geometric symbols outnumber other types of cave art by 2:1.

Cupule Art
Cupules are the world's oldest cultural markings.

Hand Stencils
One of the most ancient forms of prehistoric cave art.

Megalithic Art
Artistic activity involving large stones: carving, sculpture and architecture.

Prehistoric Sculpture
Mainly stone reliefs and ivory carvings.

Venus Figurines
Gravettian statuettes of fertility figures.


• For more about prehistoric art in Italy, see: Homepage.

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