As Darkness Fall, Three Friends Find Ancient Art

It’s December and the first snow of the season is falling as three friends begin their weekly hunting trip through the fields of Ostfold, southeastern Norway. Although it wasn’t even 6 p.m., the sun had already set many hours earlier, and except for the flickering glow from their homemade flashlights (aka bicycle lights taped to sticks), it was pitch black. squid.

Crossing grassy farmland, the men came to a low ledge, several feet wide. With a child-sized plastic broom, they swept fresh snow off the rocks to reveal the shape of a ship, the curved keel carved in granite some 3,000 years ago.

It’s just one of more than 600 Bronze Age petroglyphs, known as petroglyphs, that Magnus Tangen, Lars Ole Klavestad and Tormod Fjeld have discovered. Since hunting petroglyphs as their collective hobby, in 2016 these three enthusiasts have transformed the knowledge of prehistoric art in Norway, more than doubling the number of carvings. carvings are known in their native area. And although they were motivated in part by the joys of friendship and the outdoors, their findings also lend serious weight to hypotheses about the meaning of the enigmatic petroglyphs. .

Stone carvings from the Bronze Age (in Scandinavia beginning around 2,000 BC) are popular in parts of Sweden and Norway. Areas in both countries have been designated UNESCO heritage sites because of the density and variety of images, including human figures, animals, geometric shapes and often ships. However, because they are often cut into granite low to the ground and easily obscured by leaves or snow, they often go unnoticed.

The petroglyphs are also easier to see when the sun is not overhead — a perception that was once one of the keys to the three friends’ success. Because hunting them is more of a hobby than a profession — Tangen is an archaeologist working in a different field, Fjeld is a graphic designer, and Klavestad is an architect and landscape artists — they make time for it at night.

“This is not an eight to four hour job,” says Tangen. “It has to be a passion.”

The thrill of the hunt had them naturally speculate on the meaning of the carvings. Because petroglyphs tend to be more visible in slanted sunlight or with angled artificial light, Tangen said he believes their creators intentionally used darkness and light. light in their work. Thanks to the changing angle of the sun, petroglyphs can look different depending on the time of day or the season, he explains. “I think these images have something to do with awakening the human mind over time,” he said.

That is in line with findings from professional archaeologists of rock art and stone monuments, in places like British Columbia and Scotland, features seen only at certain times in the year. five. There is also evidence for another Tangen theory: that some images are meant to be seen in flickering light, so they look almost cartoonish.

“During excavations around some of the carvings, archaeologists have found signs of burning or charcoal,” said Kristin Armstrong-Oma, a professor of archeology at Stavanger University. That suggestive flame was used, almost like a video camera. “The living flames give the carvings a sense of movement,” she said.

The petroglyph hunting trilogy began in 2016, when Fjeld, a graphic designer, was walking his dog in the countryside and found a strange mark in the rock. He wondered if it was made by man or nature. When trying to locate it online, he found a website with photos of petroglyphs and contacted its owner, Tangen, who suggested that Fjeld’s find could be a cup mark. Bronze Age – a simple, circular carving that was a common motif in prehistoric art.

His interest piqued, Fjeld began to pay more attention while walking and quickly found an unmistakable human-made sculpture: an image of a ship.

“It was very, very fun,” said Fjeld. So I started going on a regular basis.

Tangen, who had made similar discoveries while walking his dog, joined him, and it wasn’t long before they suggested they invite Kavestad, a local enthusiast who had found the early sculpture. his first when he was 10 years old.

“We don’t know each other, but I haven’t met anyone else who is as passionate about it,” says Kavestad. “We, all three of us, are very dedicated.”

Since then, the three hang out about one night a week, and it’s not uncommon for them to come home at two or three in the morning.

“Yes, our family thought we were crazy,” Fjeld said.

Because so much of the Bronze Age rock art was created near the sea, the trilogy began by refering to topographic maps to see what sea level, which was higher in the Bronze Age, would be. where 3,000 years ago. Aerial photography also helped them identify areas of low granite overhangs that the Bronze Age artists seemed to favor.

Norway’s conservation law forbids petroglyph hunters from digging, so they work with only the most rudimentary tools: flashlights and brooms. “The important thing is that we are not one, but three,” Klavestad said. “That way one can hold the lamp, one can scan and one can see. That way, you discover more than when you were alone.”

Although archaeologists have long asserted that the carvings were primarily of a mythological or ceremonial nature, that notion is changing. “All the myths we make, all the symbols we make are always rooted in something real; They represent fragments of the past, said Armstrong-Oma, a professor of archeology. “These things are extraordinary because they allow us to see the world the way the Bronze Age people saw it.”

In addition to the carvings of people, animals, and ships, Fjeld, Klavestad and Tangen found some plates with pairs of life-size footprints. Jan Magne Gjerde, senior research fellow at the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research, said the footprints “are related to a death ritual that symbolizes your final walk.” However, he added: “It’s just one interpretation.”

Guys like to interpret them as a sign that their Bronze Age ancestors walked the same ground. “It just gives you the idea that maybe they were going over the mountainside and just watching the sunset,” says Tangen. “When we found it, it was like, ‘Yes, they were here!’”

Whenever the men discovered a new carving – last year, they found about 80 – they would photograph it and report it to Norway’s cultural heritage office. Then it was the job of Jones Kile-Vesik, an archaeologist, to verify the find. (“It’s usually pretty easy to tell if they’re real,” says Kile-Vesik. “Because they’re made of stone tools, which makes the cut softer than metal tools.”)

If the panel appears authentic, Kile-Vesik will register it in a national database for cultural preservation. Despite some “differences of opinion,” she said, most of the three men’s discoveries have been validated and they have put Ostfold on the map as an important cultural site. Bronze Age.

Fjeld, Klavestad and Tangen all said they were delighted to play a role in preserving the heritage of the area. But they’re also just there to have fun together in the wild. At one point on that December night, they arrived at a particularly large rock that jutted out and swept aside rapidly accumulating snow to reveal a previous discovery: a spectacular humanoid carving with arms outstretched above a boat.

“We call it ghost carving,” explained Tangen as Klavestad poured mulled wine from a thermos. “Because it looks like they’re floating or dancing on the ship.” He raised his hand over the cup.

“I love that you can drive through the landscape and have this map in your head,” he says: “a gallery of all the ships, footprints and people dancing. It gives you a lot of fun.”


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