A day in Tanum, Sweden exploring the bronze age rock carvings

While heading to Oslo, and after the visit of the Grimeton Radio station, which I surprisingly enjoyed very much, we stopped by the rock carvings site of Tanum.

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - detail Aspeberget

 

As we were on the E6 highway heading North, we saw the UNESCO signs and immediately took a turn to stop. A small new looking building, some info on the rock carvings, a nice view, a path… There wasn’t much but we were going to start exploring from there, thinking that you had to go into the woods on your own to discover the rocks. I was actually quite excited and felt like an archeologist!

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - Världsarv rest stop

But it is not the case!! This first spot was just the Världsarv rest stop! It’s nice, but it is not the main place from where you should start your visit!

Luckily for us, a young men who was there with a friend, overheard our conversation and we started a fascinating discussion. He happened to be a history student at the Göteborg University and nothing less than a major in the Bronze age culture. He was very eager to share his knowledge and I was very eager to learn new things so we spoke for a while, until it was time to move on and go to the main site.

After a short drive we arrived at the Vitlycke Museum where we crossed path with our new friends several times.

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - Vitlycke musuem outside

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - boutique

The shop is quite nice and is shaped like a boat

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - shop

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - inside museum

The museum provides lots of information and is very interactive

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - museum

I totally recommend to first visit the Vitlycke Museum and pay much attention to the depiction of each drawing. When walking around the different stones, it then becomes a lot of fun to try to recognize them. But there are so many, and some are so weird that it can be a bit hard!

In total there are thousands of images carved in the circa 600 rock panels at Tanum. Some have been painted red for convenience, some are just small fainting scars which are waiting to be admired.

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - view Vitlyckehällen

View of the Vitlycke panel from the Vitlycke museum 

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - close up Vitlyckehällen

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - Vitlyckehällen water

Not every rock was suitable for carving. They had to have a gentle slop and water running through which shows on the picture above.  

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - close up 2 Vitlyckehällen

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - Vitlyckehällen drawing

There were 2 men, working on this first panel, drawing the carvings on sheets of plastic. They weren’t just drawing the contours of the carvings but meticulously mapping each of them one dot at a time, for each carving is made of hundreds of small whole some of which are deeper than others. 

One of the guys to whom we spoke to, has been mapping carvings for 20 years and had drawn something like 2,500 of them. It is estimated that circa 5,000 of them exist in Sweden, so he still has a lot of work!  You can check them out here

 

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden -working on Vitlyckehällen

There are quite a few people on the first rock which is just across the road from the museum but as you go around in the woods and up to hills to the burial mounts, there are less and less… so enjoy the quietness!

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - Vitlyckehällen surrounding

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - forest Vitlyckehällen

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - up to the burial mounts

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - burial mounts

The 2 burial mounts or cairns are on top a hill which wasn’t quite as high at the bronze age. The sea has left the valley since then and has made the view much more impressive. 

The tombs were originally higher in the middle, at the top, as the stones were gathered in a nice rounder pile. But with time, the middle part has collapsed as the tomb underneath usually had a wooden ceiling. Another explanation for the collapse could also be looting. 

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - Vitlyckehällen drawings

Obviously??!?… Don’t walk on the rocks and the carvings! These are roughly 3000 years old, they are fragile and subject to erosion and pollution. 

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - Vitlyckehällen presentation of rock

Fear not, if you haven’t memorized all the shapes and meaning of the carving! Almost each rock has it’s own little panel describing the different drawings. 

 

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - site map

After having walked around the Vitlycke panels, you have still have several others to see. We took the car to drive to the sacred mount of Aspeberget and then to see the Spear of God at the Litsleby site.

 

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - Vitlyckehällen drawings


Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - details sacred Aspeberget

Aspeberget: circa 20 different panels

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - details Aspeberget

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - Litsleby Spear God´s rock

The Spear of God is 2,30m high (7,5 feet) and is the largest known man carving in Europe. He is likely to be the forerunner to the Asa God Odin, the God of War, whose attribute was a spear.

 

Although I would have loved to stay some more, we didn’t have time to see all the rock panels… There are 500 of them in Tanum, I’m quite sure it takes more than a day to see them all and enjoy them fully.

We did however have a walk through the Bronze village and I think it’s quite a nice addition to the site.

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - bronze age farm and garden

Walking inside the house through the small doors is so weird. The smell of the fire lingers, the darkness is soothing and for a few minutes, while sitting there, you are transported into another world. 

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - inside bronze age farm

 

This was another lovely day in Sweden. I was starting to feel like we should maybe stay longer in this amazing country. But our destination was Norway and I was eager to see the fjords…

 


 

The technical bits: 

Free parking, free visit, free wifi! Open all year round, it is a perfect place to hike, breath, relax and simply enjoy nature while still learning interesting things!

It’s easy to get around. The different  sites are well indicated on the road and it’s well organized, with the different paths being well marked.

The café is super nice, laid back and the food is delicious and mainly organic.

There are also lot’s of activities organized, including of course guided tours which can also be done at night.

This is the official website but as always the UNESCO site has a lot of useful info: here

 

And if you have a bit more time, go to the coast line and enjoy diner there. It looks perfect…

 

Tanum rock carvings - Sweden - UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE


Have you been to Tanum? Which carving or area was your favorite?

Let me know in the comments below?


 

 

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