Från Hällaristninger till Hällmåninger (och Fångstgropar)/From rock art to rock painting (and elk trapping pits)
In my last blog post I wrote about a field trip to a series of Swedish rock art sites including Nämforsen, Glōsa and Gärde – all situated near rapids or fast flowing water. On that field trip we visited another site at the end of the day, Fångsjōn, and that is where I’ll begin this post. Unlike the rock art sites discussed in the last post, Fångsjōn is a rock painting site. This distinction is important: hällaristninger (rock art) is denoted by carved or pecked rock surfaces; hällmåninger (rock paintings) are denoted by direct painting (usually using something like red ochre) on the rock surface. The two forms of art are likely to date from the same periods in the late Mesolithic, but the contrast in landscape location was immediately obvious: while the rock art in the region was located on horizontal rock surfaces near fast flowing rapids, the rock paintings at Fångsjōn were located on a vertical cliff surface on a still lake edge.
The images at Fångsjōn are mainly of elk painted in red ochre. It was amazing to see these images – very like the Finnish rock paintings I’d read about. Obviously the preservation of these images in these northern climes is remarkable, but probably the most interesting thing for me was the significance of place: the repetition of a series of painted images at this location, each overlaying the other, to produce in places a smear of red ochre. Marking presence.
On the following day we visited another rock painting at Hōgberget. Like Fångsjōn, the images at Hōgberget are painted on a vertical cliff, though this time presently located in thick forestry. Probably the most remarkable aspect of Hōgberget is the location of the painted images close to a curious crack in the rock surface. The crack has the appearance of a carving of an enormous reindeer, and the painted images seem to be located on its back. Again – like Fångsjōn – the images were overlaid and smeared, but were of a series of elk.
As I said in the last post we were in elk-country, and at Hōgberget I had the chance to see an archaeological feature that I was unfamiliar with – the fångstgropar or elk hunting pit. There is not much call for these in Britain (as we don’t have elk!). The hunting pits are usually found in groups, each trap is funnel shaped, and is meant to hobble the unwary and stilt-legged elk before they can be dispatched by hunters. Excavated examples date from the Mesolithic to the Viking period.
The fångstgropar at Hōgberget were situated more or less directly in front of the rock painting site, and are likely to be Mesolithic in date, suggesting an interesting connection between rock art and rock painting sites and the hunting of elk.
The trip to Northern Sweden was organised by Ingrid Fuglestvedt and Jan Magne Gjerde as part of the Meetings Make History Project. It was a great opportunity to be part of this project and see the wonderful rock art of Scandinavia.
I am now looking forward to my next trip north – to the ACRA III Conference in Alta, in the Norwegian arctic circle, next month. Look out for more blog posts on Scandinavian rock art!