Rock Carvings at Tanum.

The Rock Carvings in Tanum

Rock carvings are an important part in the ancient history of Sweden, many of them in the runic alphabet. Yet even before the time of this ancient alphabet, there was an active participation in rock illustrations.

Sweden has a special site of rock carvings in the northernmost part of the country’s western coastline. This is located along the northern parts of the province of Bohuslän, near Tanumshede (a small locality in Västra Götaland County). There are a great number of high quality rock carvings (also known as petroglyphs) in this area and consequently it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There is a large rock in Tanumshede, dated from the Nordic Bronze Age, (from about 1800 to 500 BCE) with petroglyphs and it has become known as Vitlyckehäll. There are even burial mounds, in this area, which have been traced to all those years ago.

Above the shoreline, many years ago the granite bedrocks were scraped clean as the ice cap slowly moved northwards. This left behind gently exposed curved rock faces. Many of these rocks also were marked with deep scratches made by rocks caught in the receding ice. Nonetheless the granite rocks would become the base of various petroglyphs.

In order to draw the actual engravings;the carvings were done by scratching an outline, pecking and grinding the rock to break the surface and remove rock dust. Then the artist would grind to the depth required, using stone hammers and points. The existing engravings vary from 1 mm deep or deeper to 30 mm or even 40 mm. It has been speculated that the more deeply engraved figures were of greater symbolic significance and were required to be visible to larger gatherings of people.

There are thousands of rock carvings on about 600 panels in this area extending across 25km, and they have been termed the Tanum petroglyphs. Research has been conducted on these petroglyphs since the end of the 18th century, and to this day more of the rock arts are being discovered.

Rock Carvings at Tanum.

Some of the petroglyphs show images of transportation with boats carrying passengers, carts and wagons. There are always ritual scenes being portrayed, sometimes a person with a bow, spear or axe and even hunting scenes. Images of animals, traps and nets are sometimes incorporated among some of the other pictures.

These rock carvings are special and important in history as they depict the life and beliefs of the people in this part of Europe during the Bronze Age. They are especially valued as there are a great number of the Tanum petroglyphs, which are of exceptional quality. The Bronze Age artists of those times spent much time as they did careful engravings of everyday life, warfare, cult, and religion.

The rock carvings have been exposed to pollution, which causes erosion and consequently makes these Tanum petroglyphs endangered. Some of the Tannum petroglyphs have been painted red to make them more visible for tourists, although this does alter the natural rocks and is of dismay to archaeologists.

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