Monte Pellegrino - Addaura: Cave of the Engravings
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Monte Pellegrino - Addaura: Cave of the Engravings 

Extract from the book Sicilia Unveiled. Vol. 1: Before the Greeks by Ignazio Caloggero 

Grotta dell'Addaura

The wall art among the oldest discovered in Sicily would be, at the moment, that of Grotta dell'Addaura II (or Grotta delle Incisioni) where there is an example, considered exceptional, of a scene in which a dozen male characters surround two men, in addition to the human figures there are animal figures. The figures of the Addaura make up a complex and fascinating scene that has given rise to various interpretations (some quite imaginative) that are worth investigating after I have mentioned how the discovery of this very important testimony of the Sicilian Upper Paleolithic took place. Some of the objects found in this cave, as well as those taken from the Genoese cave, are currently in the regional museum of Palermo. The dating of the Addaura wall works dates back to around 12.000 years ago[1]


The Addaura engravings replicated at the Antonio Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum[2]

 The context of the Addaura caves

The cave of engravings or Addaura is part of a complex of natural caves located in the north-eastern part of Monte Pellegrino south-west of Mondello beach. A first group includes the Addaura Grande also called Perciata, due to the vast hole in the vault called Zubbio della Perciata or Abisso Costa Finocchiaro about 130 meters deep[3]. A second group further down consists of three caves close to each other:

  • Caprara Cave (Addaura Caprara)
  • Cave of the Antro Nero or of the bovids
  • Cave of the Engravings (also known as the Hermit's or Addaura II)[4]

Bones and tools used for hunting were found in these caves, which attest to the presence of man, who has inhabited them since the Paleolithic. The caves were excavated by paleontologists already towards the end of the 500th century and the remains of the dwarf elephant that lived in Sicily between 120 and 1946 years ago were found in them. Other excavations followed in the following years, the last excavations were conducted in 47-XNUMX by the superintendent Bovio Marconi who carried them out with the collaboration of prof. Luigi Bernabò Brea[5]. During the excavations of 1946-47, remains of a certain archaeological interest were found, but not the graffiti which, on the other hand, would appear to have been discovered five years later in an apparently casual way. After the Allied landings in Sicily, the caves were used to store ammunition and explosives. As Filippi Antonino recalls, citing the news provided by Bovio Marconi in 1953, an accidental explosion of the arsenal caused damage to the walls of the main cave, a situation that would have caused the only later, the concretions that covered the incisions, making them visible[6].

The discovery"

The excavations of 1946-47 did not allow the discovery of the graffiti, perhaps because they were not yet visible at the time. However, they had to be visible when you discover them, at least so it seems, Giovanni Cusumano a Palermitan worker from Palermo, looking for hidden treasures (truvature). Speaking of truvature, later I will be able to tell you something about truvature and building sacrifices, for now let's stay on the subject.

Cusumano was probably not able to understand the importance of his discovery, he was looking for treasures "not scribbles on the walls", the recognition of graffiti as a stupendous artistic testimony of prehistory came about thanks to Cusumano's fortunate meeting with Giosuè Meli, assistant of the Superintendence of Antiquities for the provinces of Palermo and Trapani, and his friend Giuseppe Saccone, dentist.

Giovanni Mannino, in recounting the discovery of the Addaura graffiti, suggests that probably something did not go in the right direction during the archaeological research of 1946-1947.

"the events narrated around the discovery do not exactly reflect the facts experienced to justify that it did not occur in conjunction with the excavations carried out in the same caves in the years 1946-47"[7]

It is not clear whether Mannino is alluding to inefficiencies or anomalies which prevented the discovery of the graffiti during the excavations of 1946-47. An element of reflection that suggests that something may have gone differently is that the graffiti do not concern only one part (the most famous one) but practically almost all the walls, including some zoomorphic representations on the back wall of the cave and other anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures in other parts of the cave. 

Here is how Mannino recounts the discovery even if he admits that he does not remember the exact dates[8]

“The year is 1952, Giovanni Cusimano is already early in the Addaura Caprara cave, sitting on a boulder observing u pirtusu du sciusciu, the breath hole (Mannino 1985). The rubble piled up at the entrance, which almost conceals a passage, is a reason to fuel the idea of ​​finding that he has been searching for years, without success but with renewed hope, as his father had done until a few years earlier. The large shelter of the Addaura Crapara collects the distant voices of the young people of the Roosevelt Institute in the former shipyard by the sea, all of a sudden the footsteps resound, amplified by the trampled stone, of Giosuè Meli and Giuseppe Saccone who climb towards the cave . The three men meet and greet each other as is customary in the countryside. The two friends are silent about being there to review the sites of the archaeological excavations carried out a few years earlier. It should be remembered that Meli had followed the excavations in the Grotta del Genovese and the documentation of the engravings and paintings by the Florentine Institute, a discovery that questioned the deep-rooted belief that Italian cavemen left no mark on the walls of the caves like the contemporaries of Iberia and France[9]. After the greeting, the three exchanged a few words: Meli and Saccone feigned a generic naturalistic interest, while Cusimano, with the ingenuity of the uneducated, declared himself a "treasure seeker and connoisseur of every stone of Monte Pellegrino". In my speleo-archaeological research I preferred to pass myself off as a geologist. In some "meetings", to give credit to the interlocutor, I had to load my bag of stones. Giosuè Meli, recalling the graffiti of Levanzo, had the intuition to ask Cusimano: "During your research, have you ever seen drawings of animals and puppets in any cave?" "Yes, near here!" was the answer. The two friends, incredulous, invited the researcher to show them to him and this pleased added "Let's go". They left the vast shelter of the Addaura Caprara, then the Black cave, which Bovio-Marconi will call cave "B" after the discovery of two engraved figures of bovids, and having traveled almost a hundred meters they reached the first cave of the Addaura III . This has a very large entrance, the interior has the breadth of a perfectly lit room. Cusimano, climbing over the rubble of a cliff wall, went inside and approaching the left wall he pointed his hand at it. “On the very smooth wall – Meli now speaks – I saw several very strange human figures, almost a palm tall and about three meters above the ground. I immediately had the feeling that they might have a great interest but I didn't show it to Cusimano, not knowing him, having to leave those figures without any protection. The Saccone understood from my furtive glances and he too let the precious report fall into thin air. The meeting with Cusimano ended with our best wishes for his treasure”. An hour later Superintendent Jole Bovio Marconi was informed.”

The different interpretations of graffiti

Addaura's graffiti represent a scene in which a group of human figures that look like dancers surround two men, with their backs arched backwards and with erect genitals (ityphallia). Furthermore, in addition to the human figures, the scene presents figures of animals, two bovids.  

The scene, due to its complexity and particularity of the drawings, has given rise to various interpretations over the years, many deepened and correlated with each other by interesting studies including those of Antonino Filippi[10] and G. Bolzoni[11]. Referring, for an in-depth study, to the reading of the studies carried out with particular regard to those of Filippi and Bolzoni, here is in extreme synthesis the different interpretations provided by the various scholars, starting from the first interpretation, that of Bovio Marconi which constituted the starting point for all subsequent interpretations. 

Scene of the dancers. Transparency by G. Mannino (Fig. 1 Addaura Cave)[12]

Rites of fertility

The superintendent Bovio Marconi[13], who was the first to study graffiti, believed that the two subjects with erect penises had a vaguely homosexual attitude and that the scene made up of dancers and acrobatics performed by the figures in the center represented an initiation or magical rite connected to the of fertility. She agreed with Bovio's thesis Paolo Graziosi[14] that I hypothesize the presence of a phallic case and that therefore there was no evidence of ithyphallia. As Graziosi was one of the leading scholars of the history of prehistoric art, his position was taken into serious consideration, creating, in some respects, a sort of awe towards those who thought otherwise, at least in that period. Among the scholars who agree with the thesis of the gymnastic ritual of Bovio Maroni must also be counted Frank Mezzena[15] which hypothesizes a scene seen from above in which the two characters in the center were filmed being thrown up by the characters above with their arms raised in the scene and that the two characters below had the task of catching the two acrobats before they fell to the ground. The view from above is probably an aspect of considerable importance, it can be seen as the ability to have a perspective view of the scene, in fact we have to wait for the first half of the fifteenth century for the first real use of perspective in the artistic field by Brunelleschi. 

Ritual sacrifice (the hogtiement)

Charles Albert Blanc[16] he did not agree with Marconi assuming instead that the scene represented a human sacrifice for ritual purposes. According to Blanc, the two characters surrounded had that unnatural position due to a rope that started from the head and reached the ankle and the phenomenon of the erection could be linked to the side effects of the strangulation of the two victims (a sort of ancient hogtiement which unfortunately , many millennia later got to experience many mafia victims who suffered a horrendous death after having their ankles and arms tied behind their backs with a rope passing around the neck causing strangulation). He agrees with this thesis See Chiappella[17] , the latter even believes to identify in one of the characters in the center the sign of asphyxiation by strangulation, the tongue sticking out of the mouth. Also other authors including Fernad Benoit[18] (1955) Fabio Martini[19] e G. Bolzoni[20] (1985), agree on the ritual sacrifice thesis. The latter thinks he can identify, in the representation of the scene, two ritual moments, the ritual killing and the subsequent transport of the corpses, identifying in some figures people carrying the two corpses. Personally this is the interpretation in which I find myself more also in relation to the fact that human sacrifices have been spoken of since the Paleolithic as I will be able to tell later (see the chapter on human sacrifices).

Religious ritual

Sebastian Tusa[21] he sees in the scene, following the presence of figures with masks with bird beaks, a representation of a religious nature as the figures would mimic the raptors of the cliffs in some way respected and venerated by Paleolithic hunters.

Later, with regard to the Mother Goddess, we will see how one of her aspects is precisely that of being seen as Bird Goddess to which the findings of the are linked Cave of the Stoves of S. Calogero (Agrigento) and Wind Plan (Agrigento). A connection with the Bird Goddess could also be seen with the bird-headed human figures of the Grotta dei Genovesi. Just the idol in green stone (Jadeite) with a bird's head found in the Grotta delle Stufe of S. Calogero is correlated by Ross Holloway with the figures of the Addaura cave[22].

Ancient astronauts.

Among the various interpretations (obviously without any scientific basis) could not miss the extravagant one that wants some of the characters represented to be nothing more than ancient astronauts visiting Sicily

 Ideas for a Cultural Heritage Interpretation Path

Imagine how such an asset of considerable artistic, historical and cultural interest could be an element of attraction and a source of territorial development. In fact, the Addaura cave contains all the elements to create a path of Interpretation of the Archaeological Cultural Heritage worthy of note: it would be the oldest form of wall art in Sicily, in some respects it constitutes a kind of anticipation of the concept of perspective in the field artistic.

Not to mention that the scene represented, in addition to being one of the first dynamic scenes as it represents moving actions, is actually intriguing as a whole and is a stimulus for many interpretations (including the more extravagant one that wants the presence of astronauts), the same moreover, the discovery is shrouded in mystery. There are all the ingredients for a use of the place according to the approaches indicated in the principles of Heritage Interpretation “which aims to reveal the meaning of things beyond appearances” [23]

An example of how the scene can be told in an interpretative key is given by Antonino Filippi in the premise of his very interesting work: “The Addaura dancers. The prehistoric roots of religiosity in Sicily”:

“One remains incredulous observing them, amazed by the shapes, by those few lines which, engraved in the hard limestone, show the features of human bodies with wonder and precision. You hear them move, shake inside that thread of rock carved by the burin that has imprisoned them for millennia, as if they wanted to keep walking, running, dancing, endlessly following a cadence, a rhythm. They are there, some with their arms raised, others bent over, others standing or with their legs crossed; a swirl of silent characters, but who have been trying to tell us something for millennia. "[24]

Imagine instead that this cannot happen, simply because the cave has been closed since 1997, not accessible to tourists and scholars, forgotten by those who would have the decision-making power to take actions to secure the place and make it usable by the entire community. Imagine how it can feel to see these excellences of cultural heritage left to themselves…

[1] Alda Vigliardi: Rock and movable art from the Paleolithic to the Eneolithic. In First Sicily p. 130.

[2] Source: Wikipedia – By Bjs – Own work, CC 1.0,

[3] Monte Pellegrino in Prehistory - New Data. By Giovanni Mannino. In the Newsletter of the Superintendence of Palermo 24/2017. Page 20

[4] Mannino calls it Cave III (Mannino G. 2012, The prehistoric wall graffiti of the Addaura Cave: the discovery and new acquisitions, in Proceedings of the XLI

Scientific Meeting of the Italian Institute of Prehistory and Protohistory, Florence, page 416)

[5] Monte Pellegrino in Prehistory - New Data. By Giovanni Mannino. In Archaeological News 24/2017 of the Superintendence of Palermo 24/2017 Page 21

[6] The Addaura dancers. The prehistoric roots of religiosity in Sicily - Di Filippi Antonino - Il Sole Editrice - Erice 2015. Pag. 35

[7] Mannino G. 2012, The prehistoric wall graffiti of the Addaura Cave:

the discovery and new acquisitions, in Proceedings of the XLI Scientific Meeting of the Italian Institute of Prehistory and Protohistory, Florence, pp. 415.

[8] I wanted to report in full what was written by Mannino in order to avoid, even involuntarily, any errors or omissions that could alter the story,

[9] Except for the unique case of the ox and the schematic figures of the Grotta Romanelli in Lecce

[10] The Addaura dancers. The prehistoric roots of religiosity in Sicily – Di Filippi Antonino – Il Sole Editrice – Erice 2015

[11] New engravings of the Addaura Cave of Monte Pellegrino (Palermo) - G. Bolzoni in acts Tuscan Society of Natural Sciences Series A, 92 (1985) pag. 321-329

[12] Mannino G. 2012, The prehistoric wall graffiti of the Addaura Cave: the discovery and new acquisitions, in Proceedings of the XLI Scientific Meeting

 of the Italian Institute of Prehistory and Protohistory, Florence, page 418

[13] Bovio Marconi: On the Addaura Graffiti. Rev. di Antrop., 40, 55-64 (1951-52) / Bovio Marconi: Rock engravings at Addaura. BuI/. Paletnol. /tal., NS, Ann. VIII, S, 5-22. (1953)

[14] Paolo Graziosi: (1956): Some observations on the rock graffiti of the Addaura cave near Palermo. Bull. Paletnol. ltal., 65 (2), 285-295.

[15] Franco Mezzena: New interpretation of the Palaeolithic wall engravings of the Addaura cave in Palermo. Rev. Sco Preist., 31 (I), 61-85.

[16] Carlo Alberto Blanc: The human sacrifice of the Addaura and the ritual execution by strangulation in ethnology and palethnology. Quaternary, 2, 213-225 (1955)

[17] V. Chiappella: Other considerations on the «Acrobati» of Addaura. Quaternary, l, 181-183 (1954)

[18] Fernard Benoit: A propos des «acrobates» de l'Addaura. Rite et mythe. Quaternary, 2, 209-211. (1955)

[19] Martini F., Inferences about art, in "Review of Prehistoric Sciences", XLIX, Florence, pp. 283-295.

[20] New engravings of the Addaura Cave of Monte Pellegrino (Palermo) - G. Bolzoni in acts Tuscan Society of Natural Sciences Series A, 92 (1985) pag. 321-329

[21] Sebastiano Tusa: Prehistoric art in Sicily, in "Bulletin of the Center for Prehistoric Studies", XXXIV-2003, Capo di Ponte (BS), pp. 33-88 (2004)

[22] Archeology of Ancient Sicily – by R. Ross Holloway. Turin 1995. Page 15

[23] For an in-depth analysis of the principles of Heritage Interpretation, see the Special Interpretation of Cultural Heritage (Heritage Interpretation)

 at the following web address:  

[24] The Addaura dancers. The prehistoric roots of religiosity in Sicily - Di Filippi Antonino - Il Sole Editrice - Erice 2015. Pag. 4


In-depth documents: 

Giovanni Mannino: Monte Pellegrino in Prehistory - New data: in the Archaeological News Superintendence of Palermo 24/2017 - download the document: G_Mannino_The_Grotte_of_Monte_Gallo_Notiz

Mannino G. 2012, The prehistoric wall graffiti of the Grotta dell'Addaura: the discovery and new acquisitions, in Proceedings of the XLI Scientific Meeting of the Italian Institute of Prehistory and Protohistory, Florence, pp. 415-422. Download file: The_parietal_graffiti_prehistoric_of_G

Further links:

 Giovanni Mannino: Monte Pellegrino in Prehistory - New data: in the Archaeological News Superintendence of Palermo 24/2017.

The Caves of Monte Gallo - Giovanni Mannino - In the Archaeological Newsletter of the Superintendency of Palermo 15/2016


Card insertion: Ignazio Caloggero

Photo: web

Information contributions: Ignazio Caloggero Web, 

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