After Hallstrom: New Directions in the Study of Northern Rock-Art. (News & Notes)

By Saetersdal, Eva Walderhaug; Forsberg, Lars et al. | Antiquity, March 2002 | Go to article overview

After Hallstrom: New Directions in the Study of Northern Rock-Art. (News & Notes)


Saetersdal, Eva Walderhaug, Forsberg, Lars, Smith, Benjamin, Chippindale, Christopher, Antiquity


A decade after the dissolution of the Iron Curtain, and as the boundaries of nation-states less define where research zones end, opportunities multiply for new configurations of regional research within Europe. A case in point is the later prehistoric rock-art of northern Europe, studied for a century through national frameworks within Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and -- most separate -- Russia. Common to those frameworks has been a strong division of the rock-art between a hunters' art with deer, whales and skin boats, and a farmers' art with sword-wielding warriors, bronze objects and great curved-prow boats. Echoing the Neolithic divisions across the 3500 km that separate the Arctic coast of Norway from the southern edge of Denmark, the hunters' art is more in the north, the farmers' more in the south, with a zone of overlap between.

Although that central division stands, varied Nordic regions show a finer-grained picture. A major novelty of the 1980s was the Alta rock-engravings in far northern Norway (Helskog 1987). The opening of close contacts between the Nordic lands and Russia also brings into prominence the rock-art of Karelia, equally part of the Baltic region but for long politically distanced. Intriguingly, a large and striking zone where no rock-art is known exists adjacent to zones rich in rock-art. This interior North Calotte region (FIGURE 1) is bounded on the south by Swedish Central Norrland and its rock-engravings (e.g. at Namforsen) and rock-paintings, on the southeast by many rock-paintings found in Finland during the last three decades. To the west is Norwegian Nordland with its singular polished rock-art and painted caves, and further north more rock-art, notably at Alta in Finnmark. Finally, to the east are the rock engravings of the Kola Peninsula and on Lake Onega. Is the interior North Calotte a genuinely vacant zone? If it is, why? More likely, it has rock-art, perhaps in quantity, and it will be here that the actual boundaries lie between the distinct regional sequences we now recognize.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

How to find it? This is a formidable landscape of dense boreal forest and peat mires, where mosses many centimetres deep have colonized the rock surfaces, covering engravings already worn and blurred by centuries of erosion. A starting-point will be the known sites, such as those published in Gustaf Hallstrom's classic studies of Namforsen and other long-known localities (1938; 1960). An inaugural. field study is promising in this respect. At Lake Annsjon, close by the Norway-Sweden border, two large figures of elk are known, classic in their subject and manner of depiction to the hunters' tradition; we now have two new areas of engraving on an adjacent surface with puzzling patterns of parallel and oblique lines. At Garde (FIGURE 2), we re-discover figures known to Hallstrom (1960: 49-51), and are more inclined to think them ancient than the modern marks of the timber-cutters, as he surmised. Both sites are on metamorphic rocks smoothed by river rapids, and the starting-point for survey in this empty quarter will be the strong rules that govern where rock-engravings and paintings are found in the landscape of adjacent zones. …

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