Meetings Make History: Part Three.
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!
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.
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.
Trond Lødøen guided us on the Vingen tour. We began on the steeply sloping rock face known as Vehammeren.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….