MERCANTOUR (Roya Bévéra)
Valley of Wonders - Mont Bego (2.872 m)
Around Mount Bego (2,872 m), the high mountain valleys of the National Park of Mercantour (among which the Valley of "Merveilles" and the Valley of Fontanalba), shaped and polished by the advancing Quaternary Glaciers, reveal to the walker on a surface of more than 4,000 ha, several thousands of opencast prints left by the populations of the Bronze Age.
Photo "Le Mercantour"
Pluriel & Singulier
In this imposing scenery, sometimes worrying by its chaos of erratic bocks, moraines and multitude of mysterious lakes, the agricultural and pastoral populations of the southern Alps, engraved their thoughts and their myths, between 1,800 and 1,500 B.C., creating a real symbolic language: horned creatures, yokings, weapons, tools, anthropomorphes, reticulates, cupules and other varied forms. Each of these prints was noticed and analysed between 1967 and 1991 by Professor Henry de Lumley and his colleagues. They have revealed the typology of these prints to the public and have put forward an interpretation of the religion adopted by the people of the Bronze Age which is still not well-known.
GEOLOGY OF MOUNT BEGO >>>(Source : Laboratoire Départemental de Préhistoire du Lazaret)
The region around Mount Bego is placed at the south-east border of the crystalline massive of Argentera-Mercantour. In this area, the basement is made of ante Permian sandstone.
Below this basement there are 4 levels of mudstone and sandstone of the Permian and Werfénien (250 m.y.) (or Scythian). The Inferno series presents a succession of beds of big and white arkoses and of violet sandstones, which get thinner as you get close to the summit. This geological level comes from a brutal and episodic desegregation of the existing layers. Above, the Meraviglie series is made up of green (if rich of chlorine) or red (if rich of hematite) mudstones. On the top there is an alternation of sandstones. This volcano-sedimentary deposit formed in quiet water.
The Bego series corresponds to the return of a big detrital sedimentation made up of white or pink arkoses. As for the Inferno series it’s a pediment coming from the desegregation of the surrounding relief. The Capeirotto series presents some completely red shales, rich of hematite, with a few debris of volcanic glass, coming from the alternation of the volcanic tuffs. This series, which is not present in the Merveilles and Fontanalba areas, can be found in the Roya valley and in the Bergue region.
A sedimentary calcareous-dolomitic overburden laid in the Mesozoic Age, at the beginning of the medium Trias (220 million years ago). Later on, during the superior Eocene (at the beginning of the tertiary era, 56/ 35 million years ago), the European and African continental plates collided and bended. All the deposits of different nature are animated by complex movements of overlapping and lifting.
This is the reason why it’s possible to find seabed materials (calcareous) at high altitude above the deposits left in quiet water (mudstone).
Since this area is extremely wrinkled and tormented its reading is very difficult. Afterwards, the shape of this relief has been moulded by the natural erosion and the presence of subsequent glaciers, among which the very last occupied the valley 18.000 years ago.
MOUNT BEGO’S CHRONOLOGY >>>(Source : Laboratoire Départemental de Préhistoire du Lazaret)
The Quaternary Age had four huge glacial stages, and the last one was the strongest. It reached its maximum 18.000 years ago. At that time, a glacier, hundreds of meters tall, occupied the valley at bottom of the Mount Bego. This period was followed by several heating phases, which caused the rising of the sea level and a progressive reconquest of the area by the vegetation, before arid because of the cold.
The study and interpretation of the traces left by the giant glaciers, such as the rock bars which gather the lakes at the end of the valley, allowed us to retrace the different steps of the stability of the glacier (deposits of blocks forming the moraines), thus the different steps of the heating of the region.
When a climatic heating starts, the glacier begins to shrink, and new vegetation begins to grow. This vegetation changes according to the altitude and the temperature variations; thanks to the pollen analysis we can study its evolution. The old lakes, which today have become peat bogs, were a good nest for pollens. The corings done in these peat bogs areas show a blue clay sterile bed proper of the glacier, surmounted by organic land which indicates the beginning of the vegetal colonization.
The study of these pollens, together with the study of the morphology of the area, allowed us to date the glacier phases, thanks to the climatic sequences.
The heating of the Old Dryas (12 000 - 11 350 B.C.) created a moraine which formed the Minière Lake. The whole region of Mount Bego is covered by ice above, while under we can find a cold steppe with artemisias and grass, sometimes scattered by pines and junipers.
The following heating phases were the Bölling (11 350 - 10 300 B.C.), the superior old Dryas (10 300 - 9 800 B.C.), the Allërod (9 800 - 8 800 B.C.), the Dryas III (8 800 - 8 200 B.C.) and the Préboréal (8 200 - 6 800 B.C.) which corresponds to the withdrawal of the glacier at the level of the Lake Long superior. During the Boreal (6 800 - 9 800 B.C.) the glacier kept on withdrawing, showing a new landscape with its beautiful Merveilles Lake. The Atlantique (5 500 - 2 500 B.C.) together with the previous climatic period, is the hottest period of the post glacial era. It’s during this heating phase that the Old Neolithic man appeared ( 6 000 B.C.), and sheltered in the Gias del Ciari area (Long Supérieur Lake , Tende, Alpes-Maritimes).Further on, from the 3 500 B.C. the first representatives of the metallurgic people realized (generation by generation) the hundreds of thousands of engravings.
The following heating period is the Sub boreal, which goes from 2 500 till the 700 B.C. The environment was more or less like the one we know today. In the South Alps, the forest underwent important anthropogenic degradations because of the agro-pastoral activities.
THE ENVIRONMENT OF MOUNT BEGO >>>(Source : Laboratoire Départemental de Préhistoire du Lazaret)
The Mount Bego, placed in the South Alps at 50 km north from Menton, is part of the crystalline massive of the Argentera-Mercantour. All around it there are several cliffs of over 2.500 m of altitude. This region is characterized by its glacial valleys, its huge moraines, the elevated number of lakes, its rocky glaciers and its brooks. There’s not much vegetation, but the many boulders and the rocks moulded and polished by the quaternary glaciers, contributed to give to this land a savage and bare look. The engraved rocks, which all in all are 4000, are green or orange mudstones or violets or pink sandstones; they appear under the shape of blocks, rock faces or flagstones.
THE ENGRAVINGS OF MOUNT BEGO >>>
(Source : Laboratoire Départemental de Préhistoire du Lazaret)
The Engraving technique
The outline of the engraving was drawn thanks to the help of a flint point, as witnessed by a few unfinished signs. Then the engraving seems to have been realized abrading the rock by pressing and rotating a hard stone, probably a quartz, inside the surface delimited by the flint point. Considering the shape of the strokes, their deepness, regularity and the space between them, it is possible to recognize 4 different styles: the styles A, B, C and D. These styles allow us to observe the superimpositions of the engravings and deduct the relative chronology.
The categories of the engraved signs
Up till today, we have found 4000 rock with 40.000 engravings in the area; they have all been redesigned and numerated. Every rock has at least one engraving but they often have many more. There is one with even 1.400 engravings.
The engravings of Mount Bego, sometimes isolated, and often associated together, have all been individualized: today they are part of a catalogue with a few conventional engravings, where it is possible to distinguish elementary signs, which can be figurative (horn shape, arms and tools, anthropomorphic, geometrical figures) or not figurative (cupules, groups of cupules, lines of cupules), syncretistic and non realistic signs (horn shapes with three horns, or horned daggers, e.g.) or realistic (carriages with or without ploughs), or elementary/complex composed signs and signifying associations of signs.
The "horn shaped" ones
Among the elementary signs, the horn shaped ones are the most frequent. They have several versions going from the complete representation of a ox with horns, ears, body, 4 paws with split hooves at the bottom and a tail with a wisp at its end; till the most simplified and symbolic version: which represents just two horns and a body. These horn shapes engravings, whatever is the shape of their horns and bodies, whether they are complex or evoked by a part representing the whole body, can be attached to a yoke and a helm, linked or not to a plough or a carriage. They clearly represent the bovine: bull, ox or cow.
The little characters, with head, body, 2 arms and 2 legs, are very rare in the Merveilles area, but there are more in the Fontanalba area. They are often in a bended position, arms up as if they were praying, and they often hold a tool or an arm.
The anthropomorphized and horn shaped engravings stand on their feet as "tribe chef " or they are represented only by their head, such as the "wizard", the "false wizard " and the "Christ".
Arms and tools
The daggers are typical of the Chalcolithic, which is the period of the first metallurgists of the Ancient Copper and the Bronze Age. Hatchets, which sometimes have the shape of an halberd, look like a copper hatchet with a wood handle, found in Ötzi, in the Similaun glacier, in Italy. The resemblance between the engravings and the archeological pieces allowed us to date the signs found on Mount Bego from the 3000 to the 2000 B.C.
Some figures, like the zigzags, that on the Mount Bego’s rocks represent the water springing from the rocks (Lumley and coll., 1997), have been used as ideogram in the Mediterranean writings to represent water, and then as a phonogram to represent the sound M.
SIGNS’ INTERPRETATION >>>(Source : Laboratoire Départemental de Préhistoire du Lazaret)
The engravings of Mount Bego and their possible interpretation
The study of the engravings, considering their repartition in the area, their place on the rock, their role in the engraved compositions and their associations, allows us to find the possible meaning related to the traditions, the myths and the writing of the Mediterranean field: the horn shaped ones might evoke a bovine (bull, cow, ox) or some cattle, but also the water or a lightening, when their horns are like zigzag, the works or the foundation rites, when they are attached to a plough by 2 or 4. The anthropomorphized horn shaped ones, might be the personification of a bovine, changed in a sky or earth divinity.
Arms and tools evoke mightiness, prestige, strength. The cross linked shapes evoke the furrows, the tilled fields, the sharing of the arable lands. The rectangular shapes linked to zigzags or not, or to long sinuous lines, evoke the water reserves. The simple anthropomorphic signs, that look like characters, with a dagger, a hatchet, a bow or a halberd, holding a plough or a carriage, represent workers or priests accomplishing foundation rites, praying or doing sacrifices.
THE ENGRAVING OF MOUNT BEGO AND THEIR PEOPLE >>>(Source : Laboratoire Départemental de Préhistoire du Lazaret)
The high valleys around Mount Bego have been conquered after the withdrawal of the great quaternary glacier over 10000 years ago by the people of the South Alps ; they were first of all hunters, then 6000 years B.C. the became shepherds and farmers. The region was the domain of the alpine pastures but most of all of the perennial waters, extremely wanted at the time by the breeders and farmers of the Chalcolithic and Old Bronze Age of the South Alps, and this is the reason why herds increased little by little. The irrigation was necessary to feed the cattle, water the fields and enjoy the harvests.
We might well suppose that the terrifying lakes, brooks and storms pushed the first farmers and shepherds of the South Alps to consider Mount Bego as dispenser of fertilizing water and to identify it to the sky divinity sowing the earth.
The signs of Mount Bego represent a symbolic language expressing the thought of the people of the Alps of the Chalcolithic and old Bronze Age. The engravers learnt to transmit the conventional signs used by their people and they were able to associate them in order to express their wish, agricultural and pastoral traditions, and maybe even their religious traditions.