Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Mount Holy Cow! (Huet & Bianchi, 2015)

The name of the French mountain, Mont Bégo, is thought to mean 'divine cow' in Indo-European.  This study looks at the large number of petroglyphs at Bego and tries to categorize them by age and interpret the importance of their distribution.

Lac inf. de Peyrefique, Mont Bego à l'horizo, Giovanni Prunotto

In the middle of the graphic below is a flat-faced, triangular rock, Roche de l'Autel (Rock of the Alter), that looks kind of like a dagger and it has a bunch of daggers and cow heads etched on it.  The overwhelming majority of glyphs on the mountain are cows (80%) and other horned figures.  Daggers and halberds make another 7%.

The mountain was apparently a holy place to Ligurians, although almost no petroglyphs are from the Iron Age, which may be due to the fact that the area was popsicles at this altitude at that time.  The first engravings appear in the Early Neolithic, probably by Cardial folk, then peter out in the Bronze Age.

Fig. 7.
Central East part of Vallée des Merveilles with Roche de l'Autel. View from the Lac des Conques plateau.
What's interesting is that the dagger types change through the periods, and that's basically how everything is able to be dated along with axes and halberds.  So different people over a long period of time are drawing daggers on stuff.  Even the lake, Merveilles, looks like dagger.  More >Rupestre

I wonder what's under the gravel or in the lake.  Daggers?  Cow bones?

A study of the Roche de l'Autel's pecked engravings, Les Merveilles sector, Mont Bego area (Alpes-Maritimes, France)

  • a Université Nice Sophia-Antipolis, CEPAM-CNRS single bond UMR 7264, France
  • b Université de Perpignan Via Domitia, MEDI-TERRA single bond EA 4605, France
Surfaces suitable for rock art at the base of Mont Bego, in the south-western Alps, gave rise to one of the most important concentrations of rock art in Western Europe. The open-air rock art site features some 20,000 figurative engravings pecked on 4200 rocks. The Merveilles sector was in use since the Early Neolithic, and perhaps even earlier, with the beginning of Holocene.
At the site scale, geostatistical analyses have permitted to identify geographical variables, or variables intrinsic to the rock, correlated to high concentrations of engravings. Cross checking of these results and study of superimpositions have permitted to build a provisional periodization frame for most common engraved themes.
To test the relevance of this chronological frame, we transpose some analyses conducted at the site scale to the rock scale; for the Roche de l'Autel, the highest concentration of engravings and dagger representations of the site. The rock lies in the central part of the Vallée des Merveilles, near important pastoral paths and at a gateway of the engraved area. While its location can partly explain these concentrations, the main reason may be found in the rock's triangular shape. In Western Europe, during the last part of Neolithic, triangular shapes seem to become the iconic reference for daggers.


  1. It makes me think that a Neolithic tribe used the place for ritual sacrifices of cows with a dagger (kind of kosher butchering?), but why does the place keep the name of "Sacred Cow" in an Indoeuropean language? Either the Neolithic tribe spoke Indoeuropean (unlikely) or the Indoeuropean people who arrived in the Bronze Age had contact with the previous population and translated the place name to their language (also unlikely - unless the Neolithic/Cardial people remained for a long time in the area and preserved their religion/rituals). Or maybe there's a simpler explanation I can't grasp on my own...

    1. I'm guessing the place was used by many cultures and languages and Bego might be the most recent version. The etymology is I think likely, after all the mountain has thousands of cows on it. But I'm not sure how this would fall into a category, proto-Celtic, proto-Italic or something more like PIE...

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