Meetings Make History: Part 3

Meetings Make History: Part Three.

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And finally, day three of the Meetings Make History study tour/field trip, Norway.

The day began with the boat to Vingen meeting us on the quayside of the hotel. I’d been expecting to travel some distance to catch the boat and was amazed that we just had to step out of our hotel to board our launch. Once we were aboard the boat turned and took us out past a few small islands and down the fjord. The sun was shining which meant we were able to sit or stand on deck and enjoy the amazing scenery of western Norway as we passed down the fjords to Vingen.

Camera’s were clicking over most of the journey, but people got really frenzied as we neared our goal. Vingen is situated at the end of a fjord, and is enclosed by a series of dramatic mountains to either side. Lots of opportunities for photography.

 

As we neared Vingen, Joakim Goldhahn turned to me and said ‘Vingen is in the top ten of rock art sites worldwide, you won’t step on a rock without finding rock art’. Joakim has travelled the world studying rock art, and as it turned out his statement was quite true. Most people were straining forward on the boat, eager to get to the site – it’s hard to keep a rock art specialist from their rock art!

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Finally we stopped at the Vingen quay and jumped off the boat. The Vingen site runs along the base of a steep mountain scarp, dipping into the fjord.

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On the day we visited it all seemed amazingly green and fertile. The lowest region of the site would have been beneath the fjord during prehistory and there is no rock art there. To see the rock art motifs we had to head a little higher up the slope.

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Trond Lødøen guided us on the Vingen tour. We began on the steeply sloping rock face known as Vehammeren.

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This was covered in finely pecked images of red deer, most of the facing down the fjord. It was amazing to consider how the images had been made, as they were positioned on such a steep rock face; it was hard enough standing up, clinging on the rock to take photographs. The upper face of this sloped rock also had a series of images, including one of the few images of a whale.

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Having scrambled up the rock were we able to walk down the other side quite easily, where we were faced with one of the most significant images on the site – the large red deer image. This is situated on a paler rock, dramatically framed by the massive hillside across the fjord. This motif is the largest on the site, and it is surrounded by other smaller motifs of animals, and a stick figure human.

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In the conference on day one, Trond had discussed these stick figure human motifs, which look a little like centipedes with a single line and a series of ‘legs’, as representations of excarnated people – excarnation (the exposure of dead bodies) is an aspect of Mesolithic burial. At the time I was unsure of this interpretation. However once we were out on site, several of us spent some time discussing this idea with Trond, and looked at the motifs in situ. The more we looked and discussed the motifs on site, the more this interpretation seemed valid; these motifs were often carved away from the other motifs of animals on flat exposed surfaces.

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Apart from the rock art motifs, the other exciting aspect of Vingen is its evidence for Mesolithic houses, and Trond pointed out several of these circular structures. A number of these had been excavated, and a stone tool of diabase, from the quarry site of Stakaneset, had been found outside one of these houses, close to a carved rock.

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Joakim’s prediction was perfectly true. In the upper reaches of the site every stone we touched had been carved. One of the features of the site is that several of these carved stones were hidden, sometimes in upside down overhangs, at other places, in rock shelters. It was almost as if, due to its sacred nature, every stone had to be carved.

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Carvings continued deep into the inner recesses of the site towards the large natural waterfall that ran down the mountain face (now dammed upstream by an hydroelectric powerplant), and more images were found on the upper slope of the rock face.

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Most of the images at Vingen consist of red deer in a variety of poses of action and inaction. Deer seem to occupy an important place at Vingen, just as they did at Ausevik, visited on day one. The deer at Vingen were elaborately carved, many with interior decorative motifs, much like those that Ingrid had described in her talk on day one.

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Were these the totemic motifs of the people who had occupied Vingen in the Mesolithic? How had Vingen been occupied, was it periodically visited, was it more permanently occupied? Was Vingen used for the specialized excarnation of the dead? These questions, and many more, occupied our discussions as we explored Vingen. These were questions stimulated by the spectacular archaeology of this region of western Norway, and by the spectacular archaeologists taking part in the ‘Meetings make History’ project.

 

We left Vingen energised by the archaeology, the fantastic weather, the dramatic scenery. I was sorry to leave. I hope to return  someday….

Dr A

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Meetings Make History: Part Two

Our trip began when the school bus turned up. We had to wait until after school was over and the bus had taken the children of Florø home, so our trip began around 4pm. It being near midsummer in Norway, there was still plenty of light to see sites. We drove through the stunning landscape of the Flora district to visit Ausevik.

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The site was excavated in the 1990s by Trond Lødøen, and was one of the first sites where rock art production activities could potentially be linked to the rock art. The site was spectacular, with a number of images of red deer (with characteristic internal decoration), and several complex abstract engravings also. Unfortunately the preservation of the site is bad as the images were carved on slate, which of course laminates really easily and is especially susceptible to frost.

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I love to visit rock art sites, but the site we visited next was even better: the stone quarry at Stakaneset. As we were driving over several people gestured to a large hillside dipping into the other side of the fjord. This was the site of Stakaneset. Stakaneset is important as this is the source for the stone tools used to carved the Ausevik and Vingen images (stone pecking tools made of Stakaneset diabase stone have been excavated from these sites). We approached Stakaneset via a circuitous route, and eventually drew up in a lay-by close to the fjord’s edge. The route to the site involved skirting the edge of the fjord via a narrow ledge. Over we scrambled, and up the hillside. My legs reminded me that I had spent the last month sitting on my backside marking essays: I don’t get enough exercise. After scrambling over rough terrain and through thickets and shrub, to much whistling of the Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’, we eventually reached the main attraction.

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Diabase is an igneous rock that extruded into the bedrock in the geological past, the quarry consisted of an immense channel cut into the rock, most of the diabase had been quarried out leaving traces of flake scars, and in some cases evidence of fire setting, on the edges of the channel.

The depth of the quarry channel is neatly illustrated by Chris Fowler in the accompanying photo, the channel towers above him.

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We continued along the channel and followed it down to the edge of the fjord. The beach was amazing as it was composed of diabase flakes, residues of stone knapping. Incredible. it was great to see this site, and to link this location with Ausevik, very close to Stakaneset, and to Vingen. The idea that this specific location had been quarried for material with which to carve rock art locations seems to underline the significance of the rock art images themselves; they are not made casually, they are executed with care, forethought and significance.

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Once we’d scrambled our way back to the bus, it was time to reflect on our visit over a late supper, and to make good use of the long Norwegian days in a drink at the local bar…

Dr A

Archaeological Oddities No.6

Archaeological Oddities 6

By sheer coincidence, after finishing this comic, I was reading Sara Perry’s blog and discovered that the Yorkshire Museum is currently running an exhibition about Star Carr called After the Ice.

Heritage Studies students from the University of York produced short films for the exhibition, one of which focuses on the antler frontlets (though they are both well worth viewing).

A Mystery of Star Carr

A Yorkshire Man and His Dog

Links to other Archaeological Oddities can be found here.

Dr H

Meetings Make History: Part One

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At the end of May I visited Florø, western Norway as part of the scientific/steering committee for the ‘Meetings make History’ project run by Ingrid Fuglestvedt at Oslo University. The ‘Meetings make History’ project is based on Ingrid’s analysis and interpretation of the Stone Age rock art of Scandinavia, characterised by animal motifs.

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She argues that the internal patterns on many animal motifs depict totemic relationships: motifs in different regions of Scandinavia are subtly different in form. We were in western Norway to visit one of the most spectacular rock art locations in Scandinavia (and possibly the world): Vingen.

I’ve always wondered whether the phrase ‘Meetings make History’ was meant to have a double meaning, as the project also incorporates occasional gatherings or meetings of archaeologists to discuss the progress of the project. The first day began with a superb set of papers from some of the people associated with the project. Astrid Nyland, a doctoral student on the project, began the day with a wonderful discussion of Stone Age quarry sites in Norway. The aim of the project is to map the relationship between quarry sites and rock art sites.

Following this Fredrik Hållgren gave an inspiring talk looking at the relationship between the hunter-gatherer cultures of northern Scandinavia and the farming cultures of southern Scandinavia, and the exchange of artefacts between them. One of his focuses was the slate knives of the northern cultures. He had done extensive fieldwork to trace their quarry sites, places of manufacture, use and exchange. It was incredible to see what detailed analysis and fieldwork can achieve. I was especially intrigued as I am currently thinking about the manufacture of Neolithic artefacts in NE Scotland.

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The fun was to continue, as the irrepressible Jan Magne Gjerde, post-doctoral researcher on the project, gave a great presentation about encountering rock art at different times of year, by boat, or by skis. Jan Magne is always ‘value for money’ and in this presentation we were treated to a short film of him rowing out to a rock art location in the middle of a Finnish lake. It seems that many rock art sites may have been preferentially visited in winter, by skis, as they were easier to access then.

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The centre piece of the morning was Ingrid’s presentation of her thinking about the project so far. This was quite simply astounding; a virtuoso piece of analysis and interpretation looking at totemic and animic relations in Stone Age art. Much of the rest of the meeting was spent debating this presentation.

Finally, the morning finished with a talk from Trond Lødøen, Bergen Museum, who discussed the sites we were to visit over the next few days. He also presented his new interpretation of Vingen and Ausevik. More on that later.

The first morning got us off to a great start, with lots of food for thought, lots of debate and discussion. Debates and discussion continued on our field trip that took place later that day. I will detail our adventures on the fieldtrip next time…

Dr A