Ancient Street Art in the Arctic

Rock art, Alta

On UNESCO’s World Heritage List, and well above the Arctic Circle, the prehistoric street art here in Alta is one of the leading rock art sites in the world. They constitute the most important piece of evidence of prehistoric human activity in the Great North.

The site comprises about three thousand petroglyphs. Walking along the paths here at the open-air Alta Museum, you’ll see moose, reindeer, bears, wolves and fish, boats and hunters; in short, the kind of things our Stone Age forefathers were concerned with up here in the northern world.

The oldest engravings are more than 6000 years old, and located well above the present sea level. Through the years, the water level decreased and people moved with it. As you descend the path towards the Alta Fjord, the carvings are more recent. The ones closest to the water are only 2000 years old, mere babies in comparison.

Alta Museum
Alta Museum

I found myself drawn to this pregnant moose. So primeval – and so timeless. I wonder whether the artist was a man or a woman.

Rock art, Alta

Rock art, Alta Rock art, Alta

Rock art, Alta

Now, this bunch on a school outing couldn’t understand why I was so interested in daue steina, dead rocks. Wouldn’t I rather photograph them, bright and alive? Can’t turn down an offer like that.

Alta

Where have you seen this ancient form of street art?

unesco logo

The Rock Art of Alta is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites we have visited around the world.

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39 Comments

  1. John 25 June 2012 at 1626 - Reply

    That’s amazing. I never really thought of these kinds of paintings as ‘street art’ before, but I guess that’s just what they are – prehistoric street art. Thanks for the new perspective.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 July 2012 at 1034 - Reply

      Thanks, John 🙂

  2. Laurence 25 June 2012 at 1844 - Reply

    I love street art, although I’m not sure that many of the pieces I’ve seen will be hanging around in 6,000 years to come! The closest I’ve come to this kind of stuff was in the Australian outback, where there is some pretty old stuff. Where I am in France I am near to some of the oldest cave paintings known to man – I must pop along for a visit!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 July 2012 at 1036 - Reply

      Things do seem to be a bit more transitory these days, don’t they? would love to see more of the aboriginal art in Australia’s red centre.

  3. Andrea 25 June 2012 at 2010 - Reply

    We saw similar ancient stone carvings in Wadi Rum, Jordan – like the pregnant moose, some of them were so interesting.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 July 2012 at 1037 - Reply

      Cool. Looking forward to Wadi Rum, then.

  4. Christy @ Technosyncratic 25 June 2012 at 2115 - Reply

    Ha, I love the comparison of petroglyphs to street art! Personally, I think they’re both so beautiful and fascinating.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 July 2012 at 1037 - Reply

      I do, too. Old and new, both fascinating. But perhaps the old just a bit more.

  5. jade 25 June 2012 at 2203 - Reply

    wow, this is incredible! We’ve seen some great street art- especially loved the old cigar buildings in Aspen.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 July 2012 at 1038 - Reply

      have to check out the cigars in Aspen then 🙂

  6. ItalianNotes 26 June 2012 at 0948 - Reply

    I’ve considered going to Alta just to see these drawings. They’re really fascinating.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 July 2012 at 1040 - Reply

      Apart from the petroglyphs, Finnmark county has heaps of fascinating things to see – there’s North Cape, the city of Hammerfest, and Kirkenes by the Russian border, lots of interesting traces of WWII – and so much more.

  7. Angela 27 June 2012 at 1015 - Reply

    The oldest street art I’ve come across dates back a couple of decades I guess.. These are wonderful: timeless and fascinating indeed!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 July 2012 at 1040 - Reply

      Thanks, Angela 🙂

  8. Peter 27 June 2012 at 1913 - Reply

    I also have been there, and these drawings are really breathtaking. I really like this kind of primitive art (I wouldn’t call it so, but that’s how it’s been called), there is so much expression in these kind of graphics.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 July 2012 at 1041 - Reply

      Even though expressed quite simply, they do say a lot.

  9. Not what I think of when I hear ‘street art,’ but I guess this really is the original form of street art.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 July 2012 at 1042 - Reply

      I think so.

  10. Andrew Graeme Gould 28 June 2012 at 0550 - Reply

    What a wonderful place to visit… and your final photo is priceless!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 July 2012 at 1042 - Reply

      Thanks, Andrew. Loved those kids.

  11. Ekua 2 July 2012 at 0912 - Reply

    I like the way you refer to this as street art… I was just having a conversation about this with someone the other day how creating public art wherever one felt like it was totally acceptable in ancient times. I saw some rock carvings in Namibia. They are believed to be about 10,000 years old!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 July 2012 at 1043 - Reply

      I’ve heard of the ones in Namibia, but haven’t seen them yet. Sounds so interesting. Next time…

  12. Ana (Ana Travels) 2 July 2012 at 2100 - Reply

    I loved this article. Thanks for sharing this little-known (at least here, at the other side of the pond) museum and wonderful art.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 July 2012 at 1044 - Reply

      Thanks, Ana. You’re probably right it’s little-known in much of the world :).

  13. Robynne 3 July 2012 at 1201 - Reply

    I have never encountered street art as old as those. However, I would definitely be thrilled if I get to see those in person.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 July 2012 at 1044 - Reply

      The original street art…

  14. David Bennett 3 July 2012 at 1319 - Reply

    Glad to learn about this – I had no idea it existed and so far north.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 July 2012 at 1045 - Reply

      Thanks, David. Can’t get much further north in the world than this…

  15. Adam 5 July 2012 at 2321 - Reply

    Really clever title for this post! Really drew me in 🙂

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 July 2012 at 1046 - Reply

      Thanks, Adam 🙂

  16. Vi 6 July 2012 at 2256 - Reply

    Anne-Sophie, you definitely should join “Capture the colour” contest.
    http://www.shorttraveltips.com/capture-the-colour/
    I think you have enough pictures to enter it.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 July 2012 at 1046 - Reply

      Thanks, Vi. I’ll have a look.

  17. Turkey's For Life 10 July 2012 at 1913 - Reply

    Those children are so rosie-cheeked. 🙂 As for the ancient street art – well, modern street art always occupies a chunk of our time when we come across it and this ancient street art is so vivid and depicts such meaningful stories. Would LOVE to see it in real life!
    Julia

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 16 July 2012 at 0943 - Reply

      This time of year is fab in the Arctic. Just sayin’.. 🙂

  18. Cheryl 10 July 2012 at 2036 - Reply

    Sophie, this is one of the coolest things I’ve ever read about! I’d love to see this for myself.

    And I love that picture of the kids, so cute. 🙂

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 16 July 2012 at 0943 - Reply

      Thanks, Cheryl 🙂

  19. Katie Martin 16 August 2012 at 1828 - Reply

    Petroglyphs are so interesting, and these ones are so well preserved, it is amazing! I would love to see them in person, although I don’t know if I want to travel to that cold of a climate. When I was on the Big Island of Hawaii I went and saw some of the petroglyphs that the original islanders made and they were so cool. Looks like the kids with you weren’t quite as impressed as we are. Haha!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 17 August 2012 at 1438 - Reply

      Thanks for reading, Katie. Definitely a different climate than Hawaii 🙂

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