Rock Carvings in Tanum
Rock Carvings In Tanum
Cultural Sweden Europe And North America Bohuslan

The range of motifs, techniques and compositions on the Tanum rock carvings provide exceptional evidence of many aspects of life in the European Bronze Age. The continuity of settlement and consistency in land use in the Tanum area, as illustrated by the rock art, the archaeological remains, and the features of the modern landscape in the Tanum region combine to make this a remarkable example of continuity over eight millennia of human history.

Northern Bohuslän is a land of granite bedrock, parts of which were scraped clean as the ice cap slowly moved northwards, leaving gently curved rock faces exposed, many of them bearing deep scratches made by rocks caught in the receding ice. These were the 'canvases' selected by the Bronze Age artists, all of them just above the shoreline of the period that began in 1500 BC, i.e. 25-29 m above today's sea level.

This rock art is unique by comparison with that in rock-art areas in other parts of Scandinavia, Europe, and the world in its outstanding artistic qualities and its varied and vivid scenic compositions of Bronze Age man. The often lively scenes and complex compositions of elaborate motifs illustrate everyday life, warfare, cult, and religion. Some of the panels were obviously planned in advance.

The landscape in which the rock carvings are situated has undergone a number of dramatic changes since the end of the Ice Age. From around 3800 BC began the introduction of agriculture and the establishment of permanent settlements. A number of Neolithic burial mounds with passage graves survive in the Bohuslän region. The funerary practice changed to burial in cist graves around 2400 BC. Around 1800 BC, when the sea was at least 15 m above its present level, the region entered the Bronze Age. Many burial mounds much higher than those in the preceding period, are to be found in Bohuslän. Bronze artefacts such as swords, spears, and axes were imported, and these figure on the rock engravings dated to this period. Cremation replaced inhumation around 1000 BC;some of the cinerary urns were placed in stone settings in the form of boats, which also figure prominently among the rock carvings.

In succeeding centuries the sea level continued to drop. This led to the emergence of large areas of land, but this coincided with deteriorating climatic conditions, and a period of hardship ensued. It was not until the beginning of the 1st millennium AD that Scandinavia resumed contact with the rest of Europe, to enter into its Golden Age from AD 400 to the end of the Viking period. It was this period which saw the Bohuslän landscape assume its present form and features.

The carvings were executed by scratching an outline, pecking and grinding the rock to break the surface and remove rock dust, and then grinding to the depth required, using stone hammers and points. Surviving engravings may be as little as 1 mm deep or as much as 30 mm or even 40 mm. It is suggested that the more deeply engraved figures were of greater symbolic significance and therefore required to be visible to larger gatherings of people. There are at least 1,500 known rock-carving sites in Northern Bohuslän, each with a number of images, but new examples are regularly coming to light as research continues. They are concentrated in certain areas: for example, the parish of Tanum has over 360 recorded sites. There is a rich variety in the images, 13 categories of which have been identified: cup marks, discs, circles and wheels;boats, ships and sledges;animals;humans;hands;foot-soles and feet;wheeled vehicles;primitive ploughs;nets, traps and mazes;trees;weapons and other equipment;and other images.

There have been many interpretations of the significance of these carvings since research began on them in the late 18th century. At the present, the generally accepted explanation is that they are examples of primitive symbolic art, with its two facets. On the one hand they are expressions of instrumental art, demonstrating the order of life and the pattern of existence (weapons, wagons, animals, humans) and on the other of transcendental art, concerned with the other world and the unknown (distorted animals and humans, disembodied hands).