General evolution 

 Swampy basin, peat deposit, open marshland: these three pictures synthesize the millenary history of the Sebine Torbiere (peat bog). The bog starter forming at the end of the last glaciations (wurm) when the retreat of the enormous Valcamonica Glacier left a large lake, over 10 meters higher than the present day level of the bog and of Lake of Iseo (and, therefore, much larger), with two outlets: the river Oglio, still the major outflow from lake Iseo and the river Longherone in the area of Stazione nuova of Provaglio. The lowering due to the erosion of the Oglio riverbed caused the lake level to drop, and a previously submerged morainic outdrop, that cut off a shallow basin of water in the south, emerged. Here due to climatic variations and/or to the presence of the Fontanino spring, and to other less important ones that determined “chemical and temperature variations in the cold per glacial waters, there developed a large and flourishing marsh population that gave origin to the peaty deposits” (Villa). The area gradually took one of aspect of an extensive meadows, periodically flooded and partially swampty, and as such remained until the second half of the eighteenth century. Throughout this second “meadow” phase it is possible that man caused some modifications by reed cutting, favouring the growth of forage and the creation of damps fields , and through limited drainage operations, from which were gained fields free from flooding which were then filled and cultivated. The evidence given by Cristoforo Pilati, an entrepreneur-naturalist from Iseo (who in 1774 noted that in the peat bog grew “a poor grass which whether green or dry served to slim rather than to fatten cattle”) leaves no doubt that the area was used as grazing for the cultivation of fodder. The evidence given by Pilati was an announcement of the third historical phase of the Torbiere. It is, in fact, controversial with regards to the zoo-agrarian use of the area because Pilati, owner of a silk factory, was experimenting in that area peat as a source of energy and therefore supported an exploitation of the area that differed from the traditional one and that met the needs of growing industry. That is what happened, at first sporadically and later, from the mid 19th century to the mid 20th century, in a systematic pattern until the entire peat deposit had been removed. This exploitation returned the area to the post-glacial state of marshy basin – leaving out the internal geometric banks which are the only reference to the ancient grazing land. The basins to the south and west of the Reserve (excluded from the above history) were instead formed after the removal, during the last 30 years, of the clay deposits which formed at the time of one of the phases of retreat of the large post-glacial lake.

Prehistoric settlements

A series of archaeological finds discovered during peat cutting, excavation of clay deposits or following investigation by experts demonstrates that in the area of the Torbiere there were prehistoric settlements. A large part of objects were collected by Francesco Ruffoni following indications by the diggers, and described by him in the article dated 1891. Remaining in the area of peat cutting, there followed several casual finds. The Ruffoni Collection, now in the Museo Nazionale Preistorico Etnologico “Pigorini” in Rome, includes objects of worked stone (arrowheads, blades, saws, scalpels, scrapers, daggers and lances) and of copper and bronze (the crown of a helmet, a scythe, a bronze knife cast in one piece, needles and combs), and also several sherds of pottery and unidentifiable animal bones. All these finds date to the Bronze Age . Paolo Biagi, however, states: “But it is certainly not to the Bronze Age that one must look for the earliest traces of human activity in the area. Recent surface research (…) has demonstrated that the earliest settlements discovered up until now to the dated to the beginning of the Olocene (5000 B.C.) (…): to a Mesolithic phase in which the economic strategy of European populations was based on hunting-fishing-crop picking-bird hunting”. Biagi refers to a surface find in 1971 at Cerreto near the Provaglio-Timoline road; this included numerous flint arrowheads used for fishing and bird hunting, secondary flakes from the making of bulins, scrapers, all of flint coming from the nearby Monte Alto. Two other finds, discovered in the early 1970s during clay quarrying, date to the Calcolithic and also to the Bronze Age. The first consists of “a dagger blade, an ogival flint head and an axe-hammer of sandstone; the second consists of pot sherds of the one-handled jug type, amphorae and two-handle bowls. Given the nomadic habits of those populations and the absence of animal remains, one cannot be precise about the season or length of the Mesolithic settlement (mid Stone Age); but one can, however assume a long successive settlement, from the end of the Calcolithic (2000 B.C.) including the entire Bronze Age (1000 B.C.). At present there is no evidence of Paleolithic settlement (before the Mesolithic) or Neolithic settlement (immediately after the Mesolithic).

Peat cutting

The large stretches of open water of the “lame” are the result of systematic peat cutting carried out from the mid 19th century to the mid 20th century with the aim of removing the peat seam formed there throughout the preceeding milleny. The reasons of this choice were of economic nature: in 19th century Italy where industry was spreading (industry based on steam power), it seemed opportune, lacking the coal seams that had powered the growth of industrialization in other European countries, to use peat as a source of energy. The attention it received is documented by a series of studies, opinions, census of that period, apart from pratical exploitation of many seams and from a predisposition of a specific technology based on peat, such as “peat gase” that appeared even in Brescian iron making. Our Torbiere began to be systematically excavated with industrial logic in 1862 by the “Società Italiana Torbiere” of Turin, but even before in the 2nd half of the 18th century there were attempts to use peat in silk factories and forges. The systematic excavation that initially exploited 5000 tons annually, gave 10,500 tons in 1904. This did not stop in concomitance with the diffusion of new source of energy, electricity, at the beginning of the 20th century: in fact, peat was no longer demanded by foundries, furnaces and silk factories, but it was valued as a heating fuel and therefore continued to be extracted and gave employment to 100-200 people until 1950s. During the centuries of excavation the working conditions of the diggers and the organization of the work on a seasonal basis never changed. Work began in spring with the “pealing” (removal of the superficial non peaty soil); it continued with the actual digging and piling of the peat in little walls to dry in the sun; before the rains at the end of August the dried peat had to be transported into the bordering storehouses from which it left for various destinations. Amongst all the jobs the actual digging was the hardest, assigned to the precision and strength of workers who had to use a “caged spade” with a 5m long handle (5m was the maximum depth of the deposit) which extracted columns of peat 1 m long; these were immediately cut into cubes and taken to the drying place in wheelbarrows. For one hundred years hundreds of workmen, trusting only their own strength and rudimentary tools, working in mud if not water (that filtered immediately into the excavations) from morning to evening in the rain or scorching sun, moved by misery and ruthless contracts of work, rendered energy for industrial development and heat for offices and houses; but they “produced” the bog itself, the admirable landscape which it is now necessary to preserve for “our” needs.