Differences in rock carvings of the eastern- and western part of Sweden

The following analysis is based upon personal experiences from fieldwork conducted in Norrköping and Bohuslän. I have mostly been working in the western part of Sweden, but made some observations, when I did rock care in the eastern part of Sweden, Norrköping. My projectleader in Norrköping, Theres Furuskog, has the opposite experience -she has mostly been working with the carvings of the eastern part of Sweden, but have observed some differences in the carvings of the west. She has written about it at: www.hällristningar.se This blog is worth visiting, and contains a lot of useful information about the carvings of Norrköping 🙂

The "famous" sword from the Ekenberg panel. Note the size of the sword compared with my foot, which is a size 37.

The “famous” sword from the Ekenberg panel (Raä 23). Note the size of the sword compared with my foot, which is a size 37 (photo: Mette Rabitz)

Weapons: In Norrköping the carvings contain a lot of weapons, sometimes in realistic size. The Ekenberg panel displays many full-sized swords, and also the “famous” sword, which gave weight to Bror Emil Hildebrands argument that the rock carvings should be dated to the bronze age. What is interesting is that in Norrköping, most types of weapons are dated to the early bronze age, for instance swords and axes which could also look like lurs. In contrast, the weapons displayed on many of the panels in Tanum, can often be dated to late bronze age, like shields and swords. Another interesting contrast is that in Tanum, the weapons etc. are often connected to human figures, while in Norrköping the weapons are often  displayed isolated, without any connection to human figures. It is as if the two areas display the periods in different ways. -In Tanum some spirals seem connected to the type of spiral, which is displayed as decorations on items from the early bronze age, for instance belt plates and shields. While the same period is represented with swords and axes in Norrköping.


Human figure from Tanum, with pre-roman iron age shield (photo: Mette Rabitz).


Human figures: Stylistically there is also a difference in the human figures between these two areas. First of all the size, in Tanum the largest human figure is found on the Litslebypanel (T-75), situated in the area of Tegneby. The height of the human figure is 280 cm. and it holds a 235 cm. long spear. In Norrköping, the largest human figure appears on the Leonardsberg panel (Raä-84), and is 70 cm. high. This figure is also holding a spear. The elongated calves of this figure is also a little rare in Norrköping-area, most human figures have legs which fit the rest of the body in dimensions. In Tanum most human figures have elongated calves, and here it is believed that the style of the legs can be used for dating. In the pre-roman iron age the roman soldiers wore some sort of protection on the front of their legs, and some scientists see this protection as the elongated calves displayed in the carvings.


Human figure from the Litsleby panel in Tanum. The height of the human is 2.8 m. (Photo: Mette Rabitz).


Human figure from the Leonardsberg panel in Norrköping. The height of the figure is 0,7 m. (photo: Mette Rabitz).


In Norrköping a large amount of the ships have prows, which according to Kauls typological shipchronology can be dated to the bronze age´s period I-III. But the shipmotives of Norrköping also sometimes have geometric decorations in the body of the ship. This is as far as I know, not seen in Tanum. Norrköping also has an odd type of ship, which is as far as I know not seen in Tanum, but have been found recently on panels in Bornholm in Denmark.

Geometric ship from Himmelstalund, Raä 1, Norrköping. (photo: Mette Rabitz).

Geometric ship from Himmelstalund, Raä 1, Norrköping. (photo: Mette Rabitz).


Odd looking type of stem, under thich layers of algaes and lichen, from Karlsberget in Norrköping (photo: Theres Furuskog).

Odd looking type of prow, under thick layers of algaes and lichen, from Karlsberget in Norrköping (photo: Theres Furuskog).


Due to differences in rock type, there must have been differences in the proces of carving, and also in the use of tools to carve with. But the different rock types also means a huge difference, when painting the carvings. When painting rock carvings, one can either use non-permanent paint or permanent paint. The non-permanent paint I know of, is white, and consist of water and chalk. The consistency of the mix should be like milk with water. I have been working with this type of paint, when I have been participating in fieldwork at Tanums Hällristningsmuseum. This paint is also sometimes used by the researchers, who document with tracing. -In order to see, what to trace, or alternatively the outlines of the carvings can be chalked before tracing. The technique is to kind of dab the paint into the rock, while moving the paintbrush very little.  You may have a look at the video below.


When I worked in Norrköping, we painted the carvings with permanent red paint. First the paintbrush was dipped in water, before dipping it into the paint. Hereafter the carving was paintede, by slightly moving the paintbrush back and forth. The techniques is somehow a little different, compared with using non-permanent paint. This is due to differences in consistency of the paint, but also depends on the surface of the rock, in Norrköping the surface was very smooth and in Tanum it was very rough.

Painting carvings at Himmelstalund, using permanent paint (photo: Theres Furuskog).

Painting carvings at Himmelstalund in Norrköping, using permanent paint (photo: Theres Furuskog).

2 thoughts on “Differences in rock carvings of the eastern- and western part of Sweden

  1. Dear Sirs I urgently need an information. We have some interesting rockart sites in the Apuane mountings (north-west Tuscany, Italy). We want to propose to the archaeological auctorities to paint the engravings such as in Scandinavia. we need to know which is the most suitable permanent paint? The substrate is mainly limestone or oxidised marble. Thank You in advance PEB

    • Dear Paolo,

      I have no experience with adding permanent to limestone or marble! Even though I have little experience with painting, I do not know as much about it as a conservator -unfortunately.

      My personal opinion is never to paint carvings with permanent paint, since the rock can be damaged either in the micro structure, or maybe there is a risk that the damage will first show many years after the paint has been added. For instance the paint could kill some growth of bacterias/algaes which might keep some other more damaging growths, which would cause even more harm to the rock surface than the other. With both rockcare and painting, there is a lot things to consider, cause sometimes there could be chain-reactions, like mentioned above.

      My best advice is for you to contact a conservator who has experience with rock carvings, especially with limestone and marble! They will be able to guide you the best way. Perhaps there is a conservator affiliated to the rock care in Val Camonica?

      Best wishes

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