The Dolomites offer a wealth of historic evidence even at the highest altitudes, in fact the mountains were populated from the beginnings of human history. Archaeological finds of Mesolithic camps and shelters, very important in documenting the history of human presence in the Alps, are testimony to occupation from 10,000 B.C. onwards. During the first millennium B.C. the Dolomites were an area of contact between Celtic and Rhaetian populations, whose presence is proved from the IVth century B.C. These populations were attributed with the first stable settlements and the first organised network of paths and passes for communication with central-northern Europe. Frequent commercial exchanges with populations of southern Europe, particularly the ancient Etruscans, have also been documented and survive in many place names, words of local languages and rock inscriptions on some of the mountains. The first subdivisions and political boundaries to parcel out the Dolomites date from the period of Roman colonisation, particularly the Imperial era of Ancient Rome (Ist century B.C.). To the north the area was divided into provinces militarily occupied by Raethia and Noricum (in whose territory part of the Northern Dolomites are found today), the centre and south were part of the X Regio Venetia et Histria, which covered most of the present region of the Dolomites. This Roman X Regio was subdivided into several jurisdictions, possibly respecting the different ethnic groups living there, in a way conceptually similar to today. The territories linked with the first cities founded by the Romans were particularly notable: Belunum (Belluno), Feltria (Feltre), Tridentum (Trento), Berua in the present South Tyrol, Iulium Carnicum in the present Friuli. During the period of Roman colonisation, the contact between the indigenous Dolomitic and the Latin populations brought the development of a new culture and a new language, the result of cultural interaction between these different populations.
This new, essentially rural, culture united the typical Latin ability to organise and manage the territory with the local Rhaetian knowledge of agricultural techniques in alpine environments. They developed their own settlement model, consisting of small rural villages (the “vìles”, still inhabited and well preserved today) which were made up of collective, self-sufficient settlement units (of about 30 people). Their language, Alpine-Romance, extended over an area which covered most of the Alpine range (from Friuli to Switzerland) and still exists in the Dolomites (where it is called Ladin Dolomitan and Furlan) and in the Swiss Canton dei Grigioni (where it is called Rumantsch). During the early Middle Ages (from the Vth to the XIth century A.C) there were many invasions of Germanic and Slav populations moving from north-east Europe towards northern Italy. From he V thentury A.C. these tribes invaded and devastated the Dolomites. The indigenous populations moved inland where they built strongholds and strengthened villages. The consolidation of the linguistic boundary separating the Italian and German languages dates from this time and still exists today at the border between the Provinces of Trento (Longobard dominion ) and Bolzano/Bozen Province (Bajuvar dominion). Around the year 1000, the Dolomites were a transition area between the German consolidated feudal system and central Italian communal ferment (the future “Signorie” - Seigniories). The first forms of autonomy and self-government conquered by the local communities in the region arose from this geopolitical situation. The statutes which established the rights and liberties of the Magnifiche Comunità Montane – the Magnificent Mountain Communities (the “Carte di Regola” – Charter of Rules) emphasise established landed situations and, above all, identify the collective properties of the mountain communities, the extensive resources typical of high altitudes: forests, pastures and grasslands. From the XIVth to XVIIIth centuries the Dolomites were subdivided into two great areas of influence, Austrian and Venetian, and frontiers and customs houses were established in the mountains. Nevertheless these boundaries continued to be moved, alternately annexing part of the area to one or other of the powers. In this political context, some territories kept their autonomy with continuity, as is the case of the Principato Vescovile (Episcopal Principality) of Trento, which had administrative freedom even though it was dependant on Austria. In 1798, the year of the French Revolution, the modern era began in European history. In the same year Deodat de Dolomieu, made his journey to the Alps and “discovered” the Dolomites. The new era began with uprisings and revolts for independence and the formation of national states also in the Dolomites. By the mid-XIXth century part of the area was annexed to the Italian Kingdom while the rest remained under the influence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. However, it was the First World War which more profoundly affected the recent history of the Dolomites since the State confines, and therefore the war front, ran across these mountains. The end of this terrible war and the annexation of the southern Tyrol territories to Italy, concluded the history of the political frontiers of the Dolomites.The importance of this event spread beyond the boundaries of the Dolomite region and for this reason a specific paragraph is dedicated to it.