"Rock art that's on the edge of a cliff". To be a bit more precise: "Quality rock art, that's right on the edge of a whopping great cliff". The trees do get in the way of the view and there's the constant buzzing of the high voltage electricity cables directly overhead, but don't let that put you off It's a superb bit of prehistoric rock carving, or 'Felzeichnungen' or 'Felsbilder', or 'Petroglif' or whatever you want to call them.
Mrs H and I went on foot up the old path, which took about an hour and a half from Thusis. It's probably about an hours walk from the train station of Sils im Domleschg and maybe half an hour from the carpark at Campi. The old route we took veers off from the main path to take the shorter, but more awkward route from the road, going over the Via Plana. This has now been superceded by a more accessible route from the car park, but is still shown on some of the older maps given out from tourist info offices, the newer, easier to follow route is shown on the signpost in Sils (See image above).
The carvings are profuse, and spread over a number of outcrops. The majority are in the Atlantic seaboard 'Cup & Ring' style usually found in Britain, Ireland and Spain, with a smattering of the more figurative 'Rupestran' motifs associated with the southern side of the Alps and Spain. The figurative motifs have been interpreted as representing beast of burden, which makes a lot of sense when you're sitting looking at them, having just lugged yourself up 300m or so of Swiss mountainside.
There are a number of similarities with Northern British and Scots rock art, the 'whaleback' nature of the main carved panel was very reminiscent of Roughting Linn, especially the distribution of carvings being around the big natural basins. The rock itself seems to be some kind of schisty, metamorphised limestone, which makes the detail of the peck marks look similar to the carvings of Kilmartin. The largest motif on the whaleback has 8 rings and radial grooves that would look quite at home in either Northumberland or Scotland. But whoever carved it must have been quite agile, it's right on the edge of a 10m drop. Mind you, that pales into insignificance compared to some of the carvings further along the path, which whilst not quite so close to the edge, are closer to a 100m drop, after which there would be a short bounce, then another similar drop. I couldn't help but think that the view would have been more open back in the days when these motifs were made, as the view is simply astounding.
Which leads to the usual question of 'Why here?'. This is an especially valid question at Carschenna, as it seems a tad out-of-place. It's quite a distance from the Atlantic seaboard, and there's not much in the style of cup and ring marks between here and Spain.* No-one can ever say for sure of course, but my list of influencing factors include the proximity to both the source of the Rhine and the Viamla Gorge, the combination of the two making Carschenna a point on a sensible route for prehistoric folks to have used whilst engaging in travel/trade from one side of the Alps to the other. Then there's the unusual natural ramparts around the Carschenna plateau forming what would have been, and from the looks of things still is, a very good campsite, sheltered, but also with the excellent viewshed usually associated with CnR rock art in other areas. Then there's another possible factor that also links back to the Kilmartin rock art. Carschenna seems to have a greater than average abundance of quartz, the path up from Sils is dripping with the stuff. So much so that there are signs reminding visitors not to pinch bits (a massive, road destroying rockfall on the western side stands as testament to what can happen if you go chipping too much out of the side of the mountain). The veins of quartz protruding from the outcrop next to some of the carvings, may have influenced the choice of rock to decorate, but the thing that reminded me of Kilmartin was the little bits of quartz that seemed to be wedged into the cracks at th edge of the main whaleback. This is the same thing described by the excavations at Torbhlaren (at least I think it was there...). Havings seen the astounding quality of some of the local quartz in the form of a knapped blade in the raetian musum in the nearby town of Chur, I can imagine it would have been a desirable comodity back in the days before metals. The blade in the museum looked like knapped glass, totally translucent, and what in megalithic times could have been easily described as 'Dead Posh'. The same museum is well worth a visit, the artefacts found whilst digging in Chur itself, (apparently boasting continuous occupation since the mesolithic) being exceptionally well preserved. In particular, some excellent examples of enamelled jewellery and bronze swords. There's also a portable schalenstein that could easily be mistaken for a Irish bullaun stone.
Carschenna. It's not crap. It's the Alpine Achnabreck. Gets a 9 out of 10 from me.
*It was a Very Strange Thing that in the main street of Thusis, there's a shop with a signpost to Santiago de Compostella. Seems that Thusis is one end of a medeival Pilgramage route to Galicia. Given the unlikely fact that both these places also have rock art, makes me wonder if the actual route taken is considerably older.
The prehistoric rock carvings at Crap Carschenna, situated high above the unpronounceable village of Sils im Domleschg, were first discovered in 1965 during tree clearing prior to the construction of electricity pylons. For those able to read German, the definitive paper is that by Urs Schwegler: Felszeichnungen in Graubuenden; Helvetia Archaeologica, 1997, 111/112 pp 76-147.