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Rock Carvings in Tanum

Rock Carvings in Tanum
The rock carvings of Tanum are over 400 groups of Bronze Age petroglyphs located in an area of about 45 km2. They were carved into the rocks between ca. 1700-500 BC at what at that time was the sea shore. The carvings are included in the World Heritage List because of their unique artistic quality, the depiction of aspects of life in the European Bronze Age and the continuity of local rural life they represent.

The motifs include humans, weapons, boats, fishing nets, the sun, bulls, horses, deer, birds and other scenes of daily life. The site at Litsleby includes a human figure over 2 meters tall carrying a spear. This probably is the largest petroglyph of a person in Europe. The figure has been interpreted as the God of War Odin.

Visit August 2008

Tanumshede, the central town, is located about half way on the main road between Gothenburg and Oslo. Once you've left the highway, the site gets the same low-key flavour as its Finnish Bronze Age counterpart Sammalahdenmäki. I started my visit here at Vitlycke, which has a small 'museum', a shop and a cafe. Entrance is free and there are handy maps on offer to get a feel for the whole area. The story told at the exhibition is simple: about 3000 years ago this area was located at the sea shore, because the sea level was about 25 metres higher then than now. The local people cut carvings into the rocks of items symbolic to their daily life and beliefs.

The first taste of the real carvings is to be had across the road, at the Vitlycke panel. The carvings have been painted red to make them stand out - I'm a bit ambivalent about that: on the plus side their forms are clearer to see and thus better appreciated, on the minus side the red colour tends to dominate the image that stays on in your mind.

From Vitlycke I drove to Aspeberget. It's only a couple of minutes away. Uphill is a large panel with a lot going on: strong bulls, hunters, a number of sun representations and innumerous ships. The best panel of them all, I think.
On the other side of the road, a bit more inland, lies Litsleby. This is the site of the great Odin figure.
Finally I went to the other side of town to the panels of Fossum. These were the least interesting ones, but there are some cute little dogs depicted.

Allow about one hour for Vitlycke and half an hour each for the other main areas that are open to visitors. These all have explanatory boards to point at what you're looking at. It can be slippery here on the rocks. The other sites are also less visited than the main site at Vitlycke. One or two sites are currently covered up to recover from erosion and pollution.

This was my first visit to a significant 'Rock Art' site. There are no less than 20 of those on the list, mainly of the petroglyph variety (carvings instead of paintings). I really wanted to know how this site compares to the others. Does it belong to the top 5? Is Tanum the biggest / most numerous / most artistic? But I haven't been able to find this kind of 'ranking' among rock art. The art essentially is viewed as reflecting local life, so it can only be compared regionally (or sometimes by age). So I guess the list of inscribed rock art sites will grow and grow ...

Click here to see more of my photos of Rock Carvings in Tanum


Ian Cade (England):
Most aspects of the site have already been covered in the reviews here, and I am in agreement that this was a really nice site to visit for my first taste of rock carvings. The red highlighting used certainly makes them easy to spot, but I am not really sure if this really is a good way of presenting them or not. As Els says the red colouring is one of the things that stays with you after visiting the site.
I would like to give a big congratulation to the tour guide who was there when I visited in August 2011. He was just standing by the Vitlycke panel and did a great job at not only describing the carvings but also putting them in context as well as describing various interpretations of them over the course of the last 150years. The talk he gave was both accessible and intelligent and it was really good to be treated with so much intellectual respect at a WHS. The museum was also interesting and had a slightly more innovative approach than many other museums that are attached to WHS. I also liked the fact that there were a big pile of bean bags to lay down on and watch the animation being projected onto the ceiling, it was a lovely reward after an early morning flight.
I found it very worthwhile to follow the trails off from the main panels to see some of the smaller rocks with carvings on them, as it helped to put the place in a little more context. I also liked just being out of the way in a small town in Sweden that I would otherwise have no business being in, and was extra delighted to see a sign for 'Drive in Bingo' as I approached the town, which has been a subject of fascination for me since I first encountered it.
All in all I thought this was a good little site that presents itself very well and doesn't dumb itself down, so it is a really good introduction to rock carvings.
[Site 5: Experience 6]
Date posted: September 2011
Klaus Freisinger (Austria):
I had previously only seen rock art in Kakadu National Park in Australia, so I looked forward to seeing Tanum's much more recent ones. I'm not really an expert on this, and I can't say I was blown away by what I saw there, but walking through the forest to search for scattered sites was still a nice experience (the most famous paintings are just across the road from the Vitlycke Museum). The museum does a good job of showing the context of rock paintings worldwide and also serves as a visitor centre. Since I went there by public transport, I only saw the sites at Vitlycke, which seem to be the most important ones. Even though my LP guide said that going there by public transport was not feasible, it was actually possible - it just involved a walk of about 5 km from Tanumshede Train Station (direct trains from Göteborg and Uddevalla). Luckily, for the way back, I could take one of the few bus connections.
Date posted: August 2011
John Booth (New Zealand):
I reached Tanumshede by bus from Halden in Norway, changing buses in Stromstad (there are trains from Stromstad too), then took a taxi to the site.
Besides the red colouring I found similarities in style to the rock engravings in Alta, but the content was more of ships and humans than of animals.
Date posted: May 2010
Christer Sundberg (Sweden):
My second visit to the Bronze Age rock carvings in Tanum was in the summer of 2006 doing the photo session that I did not when I was first there some 10 years ago. The most comfortable was of getting to Vitlycke as the main place is called, is by car but you can also take the train from Gothenburg but then a 3 km walk from the station will be included in the excursion. A nice little museum and a restaurant are waiting for you so you don't have to worry about getting lost amongst forests and fields.

In the county of Bohuslan there are over 1500 known rock carvings and the ones found in Tanum show an unusually varied collection of motifs; ships, reindeers, bears, women, men hunting and many other scenes from what was likely the average life back in those days, some 1800-1500 BC.

Having visited both the rock carvings sites in Alta in Norway and Gobustan in Azerbaijan I can clearly see similarities between the carvings at all three sites, something that makes you wonder if the Bronze Age people was in some way connected. At least Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian explorer thought so but I would not yet go as far as he suggested - that the Scandinavians originated from Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea.
Date posted: September 2006
Axel Fries (Sweden):
Tanum is on the west coast of Sweden, I went here in the summer of 2005. The carving sites are everywhere in the area, most of them are probably undiscovered because they are overgrown with forest. The rock carvings are from the bronze age, some of them are really big and of a great artistic value, they are coloured red so they are not hard to find. It feels like walking around in a neolithic art gallery. Close to the main area there are a visitors center with amuseum but the enterance to the carving sites is free.
Date posted: January 2006
Axel (Sweden):
I went to Tanum in august 2005, it is really worth a visit. The rock carvings are everywhere in the area, most of them are probably undiscovered because they are overgrown with forests. Some of the carvings are really big and they are of a great artistic value, it feels like walking around in a bronze age art gallery.
Date posted: January 2006
James Nelson (USA):
Absoltuely magical, very inspirational place.

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Site info

Rock Carvings in Tanum
Country: Sweden
Inscribed: 1994
Cultural Heritage
Criteria:  (1) (3) (4)
Category: Archaeological site, Rock Art

Site history:
1994 Inscribed
Reasons for inscription

Site links

Official website:
»Vitlycke museum

In the news:
Not available

Related links:
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Related Forum posts:
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Getting there

This WHS has 1 location(s).


Petroglyphs .
Bronze Age .
Built in the 2nd Millennium BC .
Free entrance .

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