Alta is one of the most important prehistoric sites in Norway. About 6000 years ago, the people of the Altafjord began to carve pictures into stones, mostly reindeer, elk, but also birds, boats and people. The pictures give an insight into the life of the Neolithic. Check thenailmythology to see Norway Landmarks.
Alta Rock Art: Facts
|Official title:||Alta rock carvings|
|Cultural monument:||Kulturminneområde Hjemmeluft with the four sites Jiepmaluokta, Bossekop, Amtmannsnes and Kåfjord with around 4000 rock drawings and engravings, mostly 20 to 40 cm tall and between 2500 and 6000 years old; near Alta collection of most of the rock carvings in Northern Europe|
|Meaning:||prehistoric evidence as mosaics for an understanding of the settlement history of northern Scandinavia|
Alta Rock Art: History
|4000-500 BC Chr.||Rock engravings of a society of hunters and fishermen|
|since 1978||under monument conservation|
|1993||European Museum of the Year Award for the Alta Museum|
Ancient mythical library
Sometimes it seems as if you can hear the restless scraping of the reindeer, the rhythm of the drums, the buzz of the arrows on their way into a warm fur. The rock carvings from Jiepmaluokta / Hjemmeluft, one of four prehistoric rock art sites in the municipality of Alta, appear so naturalistic and atmospheric. It was not until 1973 that the first of these rock carvings, which are estimated to be between 2,500 and 6,200 years old, were found along the bulge of the Altafjord called “seal bay” by the Sami indigenous people. Since then, the hard rock along the coast has proven to be an apparently inexhaustible “library of prehistoric times”. Their abundance cannot be explained solely by the ancient settlements in this strikingly fertile, protected area of the North Sea. Rather, the northern Norwegian coast seems to have been a preferred place of cultic rituals in the transition period from the older to the younger Stone Age. The favorable location of the wide »Seal Bay«, located between the open sea and inland, was evidently particularly suitable as a meeting place on the occasion of religious, ritual and ceremonial acts – and the more rock carvings that have been created over the decades, the greater importance must be attached to this place being.
On paved footbridges and marked paths, the visitor goes on an extensive journey of discovery from the early Stone Age to the early Metal Age. He encounters moose, reindeer and swimming birds, people, boats, weapons and mysterious patterns. Their existence at that time has been proven, and the different positions of the fields of view have been researched: After the end of the Ice Age, the land rose so much that the rock carvings originally created on the water’s edge can now be found up to 26.5 meters above sea level. The whole variety and power of the red-brown painted »engravings« is only revealed to those who can accept that all interpretations must remain within the range of speculations – the contemporary need for holistic interpretations must fall short. The rock paintings presumably tell about group membership, religious ideas and rituals, ideologies and power. In these representations the world view of the Stone Age people is expressed, the ideas about the world order between humans, animals, vegetation, waters, spirits and gods. A hunter points his weapon at a herd of reindeer – the interpretation that this is a hunting scene is therefore obvious. So why are the reindeer depicted so conspicuously different in design? If the meaning of the rock carvings was only the luck of the hunt and the procurement of food, why did each animal have its own character? Do they symbolize something completely different? And why is the mighty halibut the only species of fish found in all epochs of rock painting, although fish was of paramount importance as a livelihood? Even if fertility rituals and childbirth are depicted, only one child can be recognized among the thousands of rock carvings – symbols and beliefs are part of the adult world, it seems to be about them.
The most recent rock carvings point back to a tangible reality: They are mighty boats with a crew of up to 32 men, as we only know them from the south of Norway. Whether they actually existed at the time or were only to be understood symbolically – the boats themselves bear witness to relationships that stretched far beyond their own part of the country. It is likely that traders and warriors from the south advanced into the north of the country.
After this “wandering movement” no further pictures seem to have been carved into the rocks, so that this fascinating way of communicating from person to person and to the supernatural came to an end in the last millennium BC.