Rock carvings are prolific in Scandinavia. Our prehistoric forebears must have been particularly eager to express themselves. You’ll find them everyhwhere, and often very well preserved. In fact, there’s a large moose carving not far from my home, next to a playground. But two of the petroglyph sites are apparently more interesting than the rest. I’ve talked about the carvings in Alta up in Arctic Norway, added to UNESCO’s list in 1985. Nine years later, the ones at Tanum in Sweden joined this prestigious list of properties worthy of special protection.


While the Alta petroglyphs are from the Stone Age, the Tanum rock carvings are a bit younger; from the Bronze Age, about 3 500 years ago.

Oftentimes archaeological sites don’t offer lots to see, so it’s up to you to visualise. The Tanum rock carvings, like the ones in Arctic Alta, will help your imagination quite a bit – imagination being the operative word. The most famous carving here is called the Lovers; a main focus here seems to be love – along with power and magic. A fertility cult is thought to be connected to these carvings.

But we don’t know, of course. We can’t possibly know how people thought 3 500 years ago. Especially here, where these carvings are the only, erm, written evidence.

Take the photo above: a sign next to the carving tells us

Six figures are crouched on board the ship at the top of this rock. One of them is blowing a bronze lurhorn. Before him stands a man with his axe raised in greeting. The others lift their paddles towards the sky.

Here’s what I see: a boat (probably) with 7 figures, 6 of which are crouched: one is (possibly) blowing a horn, four are lifting something that might be paddles and one is lifting an implement which may be an axe. But how do we know the axe is raised in greeting?

My natural-born scepticism aside, I enjoyed wandering along the fields here, picturing our Bronze Age ancestors getting on with their everyday lives.

Tanum practicals

  • Oslo – Gothenburg makes an excellent road trip with heaps to see and do along the way. The rock carvings at Tanum is located about halfway between these two cities.
  • Driving along E6, turn off towards Tanumshede sentrum. As you pass Tanumshede church, a sign will point you in the direction of Vitlycke Museum, 2 km away.
  • Public transport is a bit trickier, but it can be done. There are busses from Oslo, and a combination of busses and trains from Gothenburg.
  • There’s a visitor centre/museum on the site as well, Vitlycke Museum – including a recreated Bronze Age village.
  • The rock carvings are very easily accessible, just a short walk from the car park and museum.
  • The museum is open every day from 10 – 18 from May – August; shorter hours the rest of the year. Of course, the rock carvings are there all the time, as they have been for millennia.
  • Entry to the petroglyph area as well as the museum is free. There’s a gift shop, of course, the Rock Art Shop – and an ecological cafe serving Bronze Age inspired sandwiches. (Didn’t try, but fear it might be a bit heavy on the meat.)
  • You can make a digital visit to the Bronze Age via a mobile app or play with geocaching.

This is part 4 of Swedish Heritage Sunday, a weekly series here on Sophie’s World this winter.

unesco logo

The Tanum Rock Carvings is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites we have visited around the world.