Archaeologists have discovered about 40 stunning rock carvings of ships, people, and animals that were etched into the granite cliffs of a Swedish island some 2,700 years ago. The Bronze Age carvings, which are known as petroglyphs, were found earlier this May in Bohuslän, a province in western Sweden that is famous for its abundant rock art, according to the public television broadcaster SVT.
The newly identified petroglyphs were spotted near the town of Kville by a team of researchers conducting fieldwork for the Foundation for Documentation of Bohuslän's Rock Carvings. The team erected a platform to uncover the images, which were hidden under a bed of moss on a steep outcrop. Today, this rock face is located in the middle of a grassy field, but it would have been on an island cliffside 2,700 years ago.
"What makes the rock carving completely unique is that it is located 3 meters above today's ground level on a steep rock surface which, during the Late Bronze Age, was located on a small island,” the Foundation said in a Facebook post announcing the find. “The rock carving must have been made from a boat when the sea level was approximately 12 meters above today's sea level."
Bohuslän is home to thousands of ancient rock carvings, distinguishing the region as an archeological hotspot, a tourist attraction, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From about 4,000 to 2,500 years ago, the area was occupied by skilled craftspeople and mariners who used rock art to document many aspects of their daily lives. The immense trove of carvings includes images of birds, whales, livestock, maritime vessels, hunting scenes, and mysterious ritual acts, which collectively open a valuable window into the Nordic Bronze Age.
The ancient Swedish carvings “include lively scenes and complex compositions of elaborate motifs from travel, status, power, warfare, and cult” that create “an exceptional testimony to the culture of the European Bronze Age,” according to UNESCO.
The newest haul of petroglyphs includes a sprawling 13-foot carving of a ship, as well as depictions of people, chariots, ships, and horses. The purpose of the striking rock art remains unclear, though some researchers have speculated that the images may be intended to mark property, tell stories, or share knowledge across generations.
"On the basis of the repetition of the motifs, it is possible that this collection of figures forms a narrative," James Dodd, an archaeologist at Aarhus University, told LiveScience, though he added that the exact meaning of the carving remains a mystery.