Rock Carvings in Tanum – Tanumshede, Sweden - Atlas Obscura
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Tanumshede, Sweden

Rock Carvings in Tanum

Despite the groans of archeologists, this astounding groups of petroglyphs have been painted red for tourists. 

Contained on hundreds of stone and boulder faces the archeological site known unimaginatively as the Rock Carvings in Tanum, Sweden are some of the most complex and skilled Bronze Age carvings anywhere in the world. You can’t miss them as they have been painted a bright red.

Consisting of thousands of figures, animals, and other illustrations shallowly carved into the rock, the etchings are remarkable not only for their breadth of variation and clarity, but also for their continuity. The earliest of the designs appear to date back to around 1800 BCE detailing little moments of daily life and seafaring as the local people were known for. It seems that people continued returning to the site for hundreds of years to record figures, religious symbols, and other iconography that may have been one part historical record, and one part pure art. The site saw new carvings being created almost right up until the birth of Christ, creating a staggeringly insightful look at late Bronze Age life.

While the Rock Carvings in Tanum are a treasure trove of archeological gold, their breadth and number have made the site popular among casual tourists as well. Since the carvings themselves have aged into little more than shallow depressions in the stone, many of them have been colored in with red paint to make them pop for the casual visitor. Unfortunately this was done with no regard to their preservation or scientific significance. The site is now protected by UNESCO, so hopefully no more color happy tour guides will get any bright ideas.

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