Located in the Mercantour National Park in southern France, the Valley of Marvels (Vallée des Merveilles) is an exceptional place in every sense, but it is especially interesting for history and art lovers because there you can see over 40,500 petroglyphs and protohistoric rock engravings dating back to the Copper Age and the early Bronze Age, making it the largest concentration of these in Europe.

They are distributed across seven valleys located at over 2,000 meters altitude, around Mount Bégo and Rocher des Merveilles, mainly in France, north of the town of Menton, but with a sector, Vei del Bouc, on the Italian side.

The petroglyphs are located on rock outcrops scattered throughout the valley and were first identified by British archaeologist Clarence Bicknell in 1881, who studied, copied, and cataloged them over the next twenty years, making over 10,000 drawings. Sculptor Carlo Conti analyzed them between 1927 and 1942.

Systematic study began in 1967 when French archaeologist Henry de Lumley, along with his graduate students, began classifying the petroglyphs in an area of 40 square kilometers.

The greatest concentration of them is on the slopes of Mount Bégo, in an area of about 14 square kilometers.

The engravings depict objects such as daggers, axes, and sickles, geometric figures that may represent suns, stars, and spirals, ovals with intersecting lines that could represent the earth, horned animals, and even some anthropomorphic figures have been found.

According to Lumley, they would be the work of a Mediterranean people from the Bronze Age who worshiped the bull, and for whom Mount Bégo would be a sacred place.

But there are also many more recent engravings scattered throughout the site, called linear engravings. The oldest of these is a Latin inscription from the 1st century AD: HOC QVI SCRIPSIT PATRI MIII FILIVM PIIDICAVIT (The one who wrote this, declared his own son to be a chaste/virtuous man).

Other anthropomorphic and cross-shaped figures are attributed to the Middle Ages, and there are even figures of soldiers that may be from the 18th century.

Researchers believe that the oldest engravings are related to the beliefs and sacred rituals of Copper and Bronze Age farming populations.

Possibly Mount Bégo would be a deity for them, both because of the abundant waters that flow from it and because of the violent storms that occur there.

The most represented theme in the petroglyphs is the bull, followed by geometric representations, weapons, and anthropomorphic figures, some of which have been given names or nicknames: the Magician, the Tribe Chief, the Dancer, etc. Other representations are more enigmatic, like the Tree of Life.

In recent years, numerous interpretative theories have been suggested, relating the petroglyphs to the position of the stars or the relationship between the sun and the earth. Some, like University of Nice researcher Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez, suggest that the entire Valley of Marvels may have been a giant astronomical observatory.

This is based on the fact that in the Bronze Age the sun rose in the constellation of Taurus, which would also explain the worship of this animal in Neolithic Liguria and even the Cretan legend of the Minotaur.

Others, like ethnologist Emmanuel Larrouturou, believe they have to do with lunar cycles.

Today the site is still being studied by teams of archaeologists and students who take turns every summer to inventory, map, photograph, record, and digitize the findings, under the direction of universities, museums, and scientific institutes funded by the French Ministry of Culture.

There is a trail that crosses the valley and can be walked in about 3 to 4 hours. Some of the petroglyphs are visible from this trail, but it is prohibited to leave it without the company of an official guide to visit the engravings.


This article was first published on our Spanish Edition on August 5, 2019. Puedes leer la versión en español en El Valle de las Maravillas alberga la mayor cantidad de petroglifos al aire libre de la Edad del Bronce en Europa

Sources

Vallée des Merveilles | Musée departemental des Merveilles | Office du Tourisme Tende-Vallée des Merveilles | Merveilles Gravures & Découverte | Wikipedia


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