In the picturesque countryside near Tanum, Bohuslän, along Sweden’s western coastline, a team of researchers embarked on an astonishing journey, discovering a treasure trove of approximately 40 petroglyphs etched into the smooth surface of a rocky hillside. Stretching over 50 feet (15 meters), this remarkable canvas boasts awe-inspiring figures, including a nearly six-foot (two-meter) long ship and a stylized human figure standing at about three feet (one meter) tall.
The Kville Petroglyphs: A Hidden Gem
This masterpiece of ancient artistry resides in the remote Kville parish, earning its name as the Kville petroglyphs. These enigmatic carvings are found not far from the famous Tanum petroglyphs, covering a vast 126 acres (51 hectares) of a rocky plateau, showcasing over 600 separate panels adorned with thousands of captivating images.
The Artists of Ancient Sweden
Until recently, this hillside remained shrouded in a thick, impenetrable blanket of moss. This natural disguise concealed the petroglyphs, leaving them hidden from human eyes for centuries. No one could have guessed that this steep hillside once served as a canvas for ancient artists.
The journey of discovery began when a team of dedicated archaeologists from the Foundation for Documentation of Bohuslän Rock Carvings noticed subtle white marks peeking through the mossy veil at a certain point. As they delicately removed the moss, a magnificent image emerged—the carving of a long ship, contrasted by the weathered gray outer layer of rock, revealing a chalky white canvas underneath.
As the moss was carefully cleared, a gallery of intricate carvings unveiled itself, aligned in a linear sequence. Approximately 40 separate carvings told a story, featuring 13 ships, nine horses, seven humans, and four chariots. This remarkable display suggested a narrative, portraying how the creators of these petroglyphs embarked on their journeys, exploring the world around them.
Andreas Toreld, the archaeologist leading this exploration, expressed his astonishment at the unexpected location of the Kville petroglyphs. He highlighted, “The motifs are not unique, but the location on an almost vertical outcrop is unusual.” This discovery adds an intriguing layer to the historical puzzle.
A Glimpse into the Past
The unique positioning of these petroglyphs, several feet above the ground, suggests a fascinating possibility. It’s likely that the artists weren’t standing on solid ground but on the deck of boats during the creation of these masterpieces. This hints at a time when sea levels were higher, and the area was submerged beneath water.
The estimated timeline places the carvings in the 7th or 8th centuries BC, making these petroglyphs approximately 2,700 years old. To put it in perspective, the Tanum petroglyphs, a celebrated collection of carvings, were created at different stages between 1,700 and 500 BC. This revelation suggests that the same artisans might be responsible for both sets of awe-inspiring artworks.
During 700 BC, the Kville rock face stood on the edge of an island, serving as a prominent landmark visible to passing ships. This explains the prevalence of boat images, symbolizing the mode of transportation used to navigate between the island and the Swedish coastline as it existed nearly three millennia ago.
A Rich Legacy of Scandinavian Petroglyphs
Scandinavia holds a treasure trove of prehistoric artwork, particularly from the Bronze Age. With over 30,000 sites discovered, these ancient carvings and drawings depict human and animal figures, abstract shapes, as well as images of ships, chariots, and other significant elements.
The period when the Kville petroglyphs were created saw an explosion of creativity among Scandinavian petroglyph makers. These artists remained remarkably productive throughout the first millennium BC. However, as time passed, the tradition slowly faded away, leaving us with these remarkable remnants of their exceptional artistry.
As the latest discovery reveals, there may still be countless Scandinavian petroglyphs hidden in various locations, concealed beneath moss, soil, or forests. Each one has the potential to enrich our understanding of the region’s ancient heritage.