Rock Carvings in Tanum – Tanumshede, Sweden - Atlas Obscura

Rock Carvings in Tanum

Despite the groans of archaeologists, this astounding groups of Bronze Age petroglyphs have been painted red for tourists. 


This world heritage area contains 600 carving sites with four of the most important (Vitlycke Panel, Aspeberget, Litsleby, and Fossum) having information signs and parking.  These are some of the most complex and skilled Bronze Age carvings anywhere in the world. You can’t miss them as they have been painted a bright red and the Vitlycke group of carvings is even visible from the main road, 300m from the museum.

Consisting of thousands of figures (many warriors are depicted with erect penises), animals, ships, and other illustrations carved into the rock, the carvings are remarkable not only for their breadth of variation and clarity, but also for their continuity. It’s easy to imagine that one person made all of these rock carvings, by that is not the case. The earliest of the designs appear to date back to around 1800 BCE detailing moments of daily life and seafaring. It seems that people continued returning to the site for hundreds of years to record figures, religious symbols, and other iconography that may have been one part historical record, and one part art. The site saw new carvings being created almost right up until the birth of Christ, creating a staggeringly insightful look at late Bronze Age life.

While the Rock Carvings in Tanum are a treasure trove of archaeological gold, many of them have been colored in with red paint to make them pop for the casual visitor. Unfortunately this was done with no regard to their preservation or scientific significance. The site is now protected by UNESCO, so hopefully no more color happy tour guides will get any bright ideas.It’s also worth noting that if you follow the marked (orange) trail from the Vitlycke panel to the top of the hill you will reach two large burial cairns. These piles of rocks would have given the dead a “higher position” as well as served as a landmark for ships approaching for trade. The view is worth the little hike, and you will also pass other smaller petroglyph panels along the route. Visitors can walk freely among the rock carvings, also the Vitlycke and Litsleby sites are wheelchair accessible. 

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