Rock Carvings from Tanum (World Heritage)

By | August 6, 2021

In the Skagerrak area there are around 4,000 prehistoric rock carvings and carvings on the polished flat rocks. They come from the younger Bronze Age and give an insight into everyday life and religious ideas about 3000 years ago. Animals, ships and battle scenes are shown, among other things. Due to the uplift of the land, the plateaus of Tanum are about 25 m higher today than at the time the rock carvings were made.

Tanum Rock Art: Facts

Official title: Rock carvings from Tanum
Cultural monument: colored rock carvings up to 3000 years old on an area of ​​45 km²; over 3000 representations at over 350 sites in and around Tanum, including Engravings by Litsleby with an overwhelming, over two meter tall »Spear God« and 80 images of ships; in Fossum a scenic composition of 130 figures as part of a ritual battle scene, in Vitlycke Sweden’s largest and most famous rock carvings at a width of 22 m and a height of 5 m
Continent: Europe
Country: Sweden, Bohuslan
Location: Tanum, north of Uddevalla and Gothenburg, south of Oslo (Norway)
Appointment: 1994
Meaning: the variety and the richness of the rock engravings as a reflection of the everyday life and the religious ideas of sedentary farmers of the Bronze Age

Tanum Rock Art: History

around 3000 BC Chr. Evidence of settlement in the form of stone chamber graves
around 1500 BC Chr. oldest »pictures«
around 1000-500 BC Chr. Main part of the engravings at the time of the Assyrian civilization in the Middle East and the Olmecs in Central America
1996 Action plan to better identify and preserve the sites

The stone diary of the north

In ancient Greece one had wax tablets on which one could record what was only important for a short time. In Tanum, on the other hand, close to Norway’s border on the Skagerrak, there is a prehistoric diary that is incomparable and, unlike the Greek wax tablets, has eternal value: Tanums Hällristningar – the most important rock carvings from the Bronze Age in all of Europe. They are messages carved in stone, but they only consist of images.

In hundreds of scenes, the artists documented the everyday and religious life that they led – and give scientists a headache with it to this day. Because nobody can finally say what the masters of the Scandinavian Bronze Age recorded here. The work of the rock drawing institute, in which the finds are analyzed, has significantly advanced the cultural-historical research through new knowledge and interpretive approaches in order to unravel the wide range of 1713 ships, 1994 people and 465 animals: pictures of men on the hunt, by Wedding rituals, warriors with raised spears and life-size “battle paintings”, reindeer, deer and elk, but also ships and abstract geometric figures.

Among these petroglyphs, which were created by scratching and subsequent colored painting, some from the Middle Neolithic were found. So far, however, it has not been possible to explain the meaning of the zigzag lines from around 3000 BC.

According to commit4fitness, the large rock slab of Vitlycke is the most famous and one of the most beautiful rock carvings in Sweden. Only in the last few years has it been possible to give an interpretation of the overall concept; Until then, there were only incomplete and unsecured partial explanations for the individual image sequences. Because the almost 500 drawings – made more recognizable by repainting – tell complete stories, composed of individual motifs such as ships, men with phallus, animals or sun symbols. It is a series of images that religious scholars call “The Great Drama”. In it, the artists captured impressions of the often threatening nature that surrounds them, in accordance with their understanding of faith and the world. They created images of the eternal cosmic cycle, of becoming and passing away, of the constant struggle of light against darkness, represented by “border soldiers” who try to defend their habitat with a battle ax. Other depictions show Thor blessing a bride and groom with his hammer and, as a “victory of fertility”, six children following their father in procession. Balder, the god of light, was also captured on his journey into the dead by ship. One picture even shows a kind of car with a cult wheel.

At a distance of a few kilometers there is an impressive number of image fields such as the “rock cartoons” by Fossum. At the time of their creation, the places were directly on the sea; due to the Scandinavian land elevation, they are now 25-30 meters higher. Countless depictions of ships – such as oversized combs – suggest that what the famous Roman historian Tacitus noted may have been true even then: “The tribes of the Suionen (…) are powerful not only through men and weapons, but also through their fleets.”

The abundance and diversity of rock carvings is only part of the unique finds in the Tanum area, plus grave fields and chambers from the Iron Age, rock tombs, a rune stone from the Vikings, a labyrinth of burial tombs from the Bronze Age and megalithic tombs. They all testify to the millennia-old importance of Tanum as a place of religion and as a place of residence. These cultural treasures of prehistory effortlessly survived the millennia and are only threatened today by increasing air pollution.

Rock Carvings from Tanum (World Heritage)