As the GPS guided us expertly around bays, inlets and small fishing villages that characterize this coastal area, we chattered about what more exciting things we might discover on our days journey. We have enjoyed immensely the exploration we have done so far and have been fascinated to learn about Viking history and legend and are very excited to explore further.
Today sure was our lucky day.
The archaeological guide greeted us at the Vitlyke museum in Tanumshede with a blue-bristled long-handled broom and a slim black tube. Our group sped after him in his museum-mobile in a 4 car convoy across farmers fields, down little country lanes and then stopped abruptly in the middle of the brush. We all piled out and followed him on foot around several corners before entering a heavily carpeted evergreen forest, lush with ferns and fragrant with rich decay of centuries of fallen pine needles.
As we forged a path over the carpeted forest floor and through the light underbrush the guide began to explain that the Tanum plain is well known for it’s prolific Viking and bronze age burial sites that dot the country side as well as the 1000’s of bronze age rock carvings. Dial Viking civilization from 500-1500 AD back, around a 1000 years to be more precise, to 300-1800 BC you have early Scandinavian culture of the Bronze Age, where weavers, farmers, shepherds, fishermen and goatherds who lived a remarkably sophisticated lifestyle populated the area. At the time of the Bronze Age, the sea was 50 feet higher than it is today, so any rock carvings lie at least that high above the current sea level…
We began to climb.
We threaded our way along a ridge and began to descend through the forest and by two large mounds, burial mounds we were told, easily distinguished as being distinctly different than the surrounding topography.
We reached an open plateau with large expanses of granite smoothed by migrating glaciers. The guide set down the slim black tube and after locating areas where runoff water greased the rock he began to sweep away the debris from the trees above.
Slowly from underneath the grime of the decaying pine needles figures began to take shape, etched in the stone.
Warriors dancing with spears, children playing ball, multitudes of boats of varying sizes, animals, figures in mating rituals, men in chariots.
We were all completely spellbound.
Then he produced a large sheet of paper from his slim black tube and proceeded to position it over some of the more striking images and after securing it in place with some tape, he began to skim the surface with a sheet of carbon paper wrapped over the flat of his hand.
This is what happened next…
The figures began to appear on the rubbing with amazing clarity as the carbon focused their outlines. They changed from soft grey shapes hiding under the veil of granite to the dancing and menacing figures they were intended to be, performing their 3000 year old ceremonies on the paper right in front of us. The spell deepened, then he invited Riel to continue with the rubbing;
Riel reverently accepted the task.
As he continued the rubbing more figures began to appear and solidify, as if by magic, and the guide began to tell us stories about the figures and to describe to us the scene beside the rocks where we were, life, celebration, worship and death, to fill in the fuzzy details with gently lapping seawater replacing the coniferous forest in the valley in front if us, as far as we could see.
As he fixed the carbon on the rubbing with grass, it all became clear to us, the buzz of the conversations, the chink and sweep of the stone carvers as they worked in the watershed, the ceremonies, the hunts, the games and the mourning…
Life and death 3000 years ago…