The Tanum Petroglyphs of Sweden: Following the Path of the Sun

The Day of Archaeology 2016 finds us in Sweden. Sadly not literally! We are looking through extraordinary images sent to us from Dr. Gerhard Milstreu of the rock art of Tanum in Sweden.

My Art and Design Director Ben Dickins and I are working on the Bradshaw Foundation’s new section of the Scandinavian Rock Art Archive – Tanum Rock Art – in conjunction with Gerhard Milstreu and the Tanum Rock Art Research Centre: http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/scandinavia/sweden/index.php

‘The Tanum Petroglyphs of Sweden: Following the Path of the Sun’ – research over decades on the Tanum petroglyphs has revealed that the people depicted their rituals as symbols in order to understand their world, a world encapsulated in a pantheon of water, sun & fertility, a world whose symbolism represented the ceremonial battles between winter and summer. The ship was an icon of the path of the sun; the sun ship enabled the sun’s eternal journey. The other important helper on this journey was the sun horse, which pulled the sun across the sky.

The high concentration of petroglyphs at Tanum – near Tanumshede, Bohuslan – has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The site includes one of the largest carved rocks of the Nordic Bronze Age – the ‘Vitlyckehal’ – in Scandinavia. The ‘Tanum petroglyphs’ represent 1000’s of images on over 600 panels, concentrated in distinct areas along a 25 km stretch which was originally the coastline of a fjord during the Bronze Age.

During the Scandinavian Neolithic periods, hunter-gatherer ways of life gave way over time to agriculture. A marked change occurred when the Bronze Age began around 2.000 B.C. During the Bronze Age, the pictorial expression underwent a change in both form and content. The rock carvings from this period are frequently known as farmers carvings. The people practicing agriculture became dependant on different powers compared to those in the past, and the dominating theory is that the carvings describe the religion of the Bronze Age with its myths and rituals, inspired by their way of life. The rock carvings were not ‘art for art’s sake’, but constituted a practical tool to maintain the religious needs and balance within society. The representations are our largest source for our appreciation of their cosmology. They are predominantly pecked in stone, but also appear frequently on metals, bronze and gold, and on perishable materials, such as wood and tattoos on the skin.

And so, onwards. As the Bradshaw Foundation endeavours to chronicle the research of archaeologists around the world, the new section on the petroglyphs of Tanum in Sweden will bring depth to the Scandinavian Rock Art Archive. Next on the list – Denmark!

Thanks as always to all those who have put time and effort in to make the Day of Archaeology happen. It’s always fascinating to see what others are up to around the world!

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Tanum Sweden day of archaeology Bradshaw Foundation

Tanum rock art from the Bradshaw Foundation Scandinavia Rock Art Archive


The Cave of the Hundred Mammoths

Mammoth rock art from the Rouffignac cave, France from the Bradshaw Foundation archive

Mammoth rock art from the Rouffignac cave, France from the Bradshaw Foundation archive

Today we are in the office preparing a new section on the Upper Palaeolithic cave art of Rouffignac in the French Dordogne, with its 100 beautiful mammoths and other animal depictions.

Having visited the cave last year, I am now in front of the Mac with my Art and Design Director Ben Dickins, finalising the text and editing some amazing images from the artists of our Palaeolithic past.

The cave contains over 250 engravings and cave drawings, but we want to get across the cave experience: it’s vast and deep, and would have taken the original artists 45 minutes to walk to the end in flickering torch light, where they created a superb panel of art on the ceiling of the End Chamber.

To be in the cave is a special and humbling experience; it is a liminal moment that transcends time, and this is what we are trying to capture!

This is a typical day for us as we continue to document the prehistoric cave paintings and petroglyphs which we make available to all on our site Bradshaw Foundation online archive

The Day of Archaeology 2015 is a fantastic idea; it allows us to see what our colleagues are up to around the world, and discover things we might have missed.

Back to my desk, coffee and mammoths. Have a great day!

Peter Robinson
Editor, Bradshaw Foundation