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Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Bronze Age Communication

This is from that well known scientific journal, the Daily Mail, and I present it for what it's worth.  It's fair to say that there have been certain sceptical comments, mainly related to the extraordinary survival of these images in the open, on rocks exposed to all of the vagaries of the weather, in a very hostile high-latitude environment, for more than 4,000 years.  Are these images genuinely as old as Mark Sapwell claims they are? More will be revealed.  But in the meantime it's an interesting idea......


Like this?  Grab a chisel: Bronze age tribes used granite rocks as prehistoric version of (Rock) Facebook

Rock art found in Russia and Sweden suggests prehistoric people used to communicate with one another
By Chris Richards

Cambridge boffins are studying a 'prehistoric version of Facebook' to gain a unique insight into the daily lives of our ancestors.

Scientists are analysing thousands of images scrawled across two granite rock sites - each the size of a football pitch - in Sweden and Russia.

Archaeologists believe the sites were an early form of 'social networking' used by Bronze Age tribes to communicate with each other.

The site gave different clans the opportunity to build up knowledge and share tips on hunting and other necessities for survival.

Scientists believe ancient man continued to go back to the exact same locations to draw and communicate for thousands of years as it provided them with 'comfort' and a deep human 'connection'.

Cambridge archaeologist Mark Sapwell is using the latest technology to analyse the different types of imagery - including animals, humans, boats and hunting parties.

Mr Sapwell said: 'There's clearly something quite special about these spaces.

'I think people went there because they knew people had been there before them.

'Like today, people have always wanted to feel connected to each other - this was an expression of identity for these very early societies, before written language.

'People would create art as an open invitation, it's accumulative.

'Like a Facebook status invites comment, the rock art appears very social and invites addition.

'The way the variations of image both mirror and reinterpret act as a kind of call and response between different packs of hunters across hundreds - even thousands - of years.'

The two sites that Sapwell is investigating, Zalavruga in Russia and Ndmforsen in northern Sweden, contain around 2,500 images.

Using analytical software, he is comparing the imagery over large areas - adding and taking off layers to create a sense of how people built on existing images.

Scientists also discovered that as the prehistoric art developed, it began to go 'mobile'.
It came off the rock and appeared on tools such as the handles of slate knives and pots.

Mr Sapwell added: 'These sites are on river networks, and boat is likely how these Bronze Age tribes travelled.

'The rock art I'm studying is found near rapids and waterfalls, places where you would have to maybe leave the river and walk around carrying your animal-skin canoe on your back.

'They are natural spots to stop and leave your mark as you journey through, like a kind of artistic tollbooth.'

Read more:


About the researcher
University of Cambridge

Graduate Student, Archaeology

St. John's College

Thesis Title: Prehistoric Think Tanks: The role of rock art palimpsests in forming knowledge in Neolithic to Bronze Age Fennoscandia

Supervisors:     Liliana Janik     John Robb

My current research focuses on rock art in the Fennoscandia region from the Late Mesolithic to Early Bronze Age. Its main aim is to explore how made images were used to mediate and change experiences of the world in prehistoric communities.

Many groups of people of differing subsistence strategies and traditions neighboured each other within prehistoric northern Europe, and these groups were involved in many forms of contact and exchange on differing scales. This circumstance provided a rich environment for knowledge systems to be expressed and challenged between peoples through time. My research explores how the making and viewing of images is involved in the exchange of these differing forms of knowledge.

The Ph.D study concentrates on two specific areas in northern Europe, which are locations where image making and viewing were a central and prolific practice. The first location is Zalavruga in Karelia, north western Russia, and the second is Nämforsen in Norrland, north Sweden. These two locations are both extensive rock art landscapes which were used and re-used over a long period of time.

Using a mixture of small-scale GIS analysis, large-scale statistical analyses across landscapes, photogrammetry and comparisons with the surrounding archaeology, I explore how the changing appearance and composition of the rock art images infer an historical environment where opinions of the world and people are perpetuated, challenged and reformed. In particular, I examine how images have been used to experiment with definitions of person, forms of transformation and degrees of openness to new ideas and people.

I hope this research will contribute new methods and considerations for examining the compositions of images, using computer software as a valuable 'thinking tool'. I aim also to increase the significance of visual culture in interpretations of prehistoric society and in people's lives today, by viewing art as an active and powerful means of changing the way others think of the world and themselves.


Anonymous said...

Rock on!

David Essex

Anonymous said...

"Scientists are analysing thousands of images scrawled across two granite rock sites - each the size of a football pitch -in Sweden and Russia."

Just how significant is it that each of these rock sites is the size of a football pitch?

Bob said...

Old news, I did a blog on this last year

Nice to see its being read and stolen in academic circles.


BRIAN JOHN said...

Robert -- your post was totally different -- had nothing to do with these locations, which are much further north. And the Cambridge researcher is -- shall we say -- rather more circumspect in the conclusions he draws......

Stolen? By academic circles? I thought that academics exist to study things and to pass them on to the next genetration? Or would you prefer that they didn't extist?

Geo Cur said...

RJL ,the Haljesta site is not a cave , and John Coles, a Canadian ,British resident had written and recorded the site in 1998 .

Bob said...

I think you will find that Paul Johnson in 'Sea-craft of Prehistory' published these pictures in 1980.

Sea craft of prehistory - what a novel idea, the boats look quite big, almost a ship, do you think they could carry large stones?


Geo Cur said...

Seeing as Johnson took the pics he is unlikely to have described the site as cave .
Boats and ships are relatively common motifs in Scandanavian and northern rock art ,which has been studied since at least the middle of the 19th both academics and amateur experts , I am unaware of any suggestions of "theft" outwith the alternative writings .

Geo Cur said...

A comment about the survival .Whilst there are examples of rock paintings in Scandanavia , Russia etc ,(particularly from Finland where engraving are rare except for cup marks ),many sites that are actually engravings have been painted this century , mainly to help the tourist see what are in effect often sahllow engravings requiring the right onditions to see clearly .. This practice is unlikely to contiue .

Anonymous said...

“ … engravings have been painted this century , mainly to help the tourist see what are in effect often sahllow engravings requiring the right onditions to see clearly”

Were the engravers stoned at the time to create the right conditions ?

Geo Cur said...

Anon , the engravings have degraded over the millenia . A good example was one I had found just yesterday , see . When this was first engraved it would have been much clearer now it needs covered in water and photographed into the sun .

BRIAN JOHN said...

I share a lot of the scepticism here -- the pictures are so fresh that I suspect they have all been "touched up" with red paint so as to make the study and the photography easier......

Geo Cur said...

What are you sceptical about ? The engravings have "been coloured in " as I explained .If the engravings were left , as is , ,many would hardly be noticeable , it's all a case of catering for the tourist .

BRIAN JOHN said...

I'm not being sceptical about you, Geo -- but about the appearance of the images. The piece doesn't say that the images were coloured in -- and you just assume that -- or do you KNOW they were coloured in?

Geo Cur said...

I realise that you weren't being sceptical about me .
It has , as I said , been common Scandanavian practice at engraved sites i.e. not even sites that were originally painted , to paint them in that garish red bringing out engravings that have been exposed to the elements for millenia.Contrary to what RJL suggested about Haljesta , it is not a cave and like the vast majority is an open air site .
Fortunately this practice is likely to stop , which will mean punters will just have to look a bit harder . Scroll down to page 20

Anonymous said...

Geo Cur,

What do we know about the authenticity of these 'engravings'? Are there original untouched images of these 'engravings' reported in respectable journals?

I know in the silhouette grain of a stone surface you can make out anything present in your imagination. If you are 'looking' for prehistoric rock art, you will find prehistoric rock art!

Anonymous said...

The proximity of this 'rock art' to a river bent raises great suspicion if this site is prehistoric. The river then would have been wider and bigger following the glacier melt and these flat river slabs of stones would have been under water.

Can we expect greater 'critical thinking' when it comes to matters of prehistoric civilizations?


Geo Cur said...

Anon, the engravings ,which are still being discovered (reindeer herders found some quite recently in Padjelanta in Lapland )have been recorded and reported in English journals such as Antiquity , Cambridge Archaeologial Journal ,Oxford Journal of Archaeology etc.
You may find what you believe to be rock art but your belief is unlikely to convince anyone that knows anything about the subject unless in the very unlikely event it actually was genuine rock art .

BRIAN JOHN said...

You speak in riddles, Geo! How do you define "genuine rock art" and distinguish it from art that is not genuine? Ah yes, and we have "verse" and "poetry" in another field. All in the eye of the beholder?

Geo Cur said...

Anon , the engravings at Namforsen (in the pic ) were engraved long after the glacier melt .Prehistoric in Scandinavia means a period of approx 10,000 years , most of the engravings are quite late i.e. Bronze - Iron Age . Water levels are actually used as a means dating some of the engravings , particularly those on lake shores .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thinker -- I agree with Geo that you can't just generalize as to whether rivers were wider or larger at the end of the last glaciation. Some were, some weren't. Rivers go up and down and change course. Every location is different -- and I assume that the researchers have got enough common sense to know that.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thinker -- I agree with Geo that you can't just generalize as to whether rivers were wider or larger at the end of the last glaciation. Some were, some weren't. Rivers go up and down and change course. Every location is different -- and I assume that the researchers have got enough common sense to know that.

Geo Cur said...

What was the riddle ? There are often reports of people finding rock art , which turns out to be prefectly natural often the reseult of pebble drop from conglomerate , diagenisis , solution holes etc . Genuine rock art is man made and not natural .

Geo Cur said...

Kostas , you might find this interesting . .

Anonymous said...


“I assume that the researchers have got enough common sense to know that.”

Really? Since when have you become so assuming​?

Before anything can be decided regarding these painted-over 'engravings' we need to know,

1) what the actual images looked like before they were painted over
2) what were the circumstances when these images were painted over and by whom and when
3) what sound geological studies tell us about the geological history of this river bordering these rocks

Unless and until we know these facts, we simply engage in providing a platform promoting more fantasy.


Bob said...

Rivers larger at the end of the last ice age.... progress at last!

No Brian your analysis of the waterways is incorrect, if you take the water levels as an 'average' - ignoring flash foods etc as it is based on ground water levels, the level is stable - did you not study hydrology on you uni courses?

If so, you will recognise that 25% - 40% of ground water is from the last ice age - so linked!!

As for dating of these rock art forms as Bronze or Iron Age, I would like to see the proof (or the calculations Geo) as they can not be dated.

As for the paint - do we not renew the chalk horse at uffington? - does that make it 21st Century?


Geo Cur said...

Kostas ,if you are really interested then you can certainly get the answers to 1-2 quite easily with a litle searching on the web which will lead to the papers or books .3) might be slightly more difficult I don't know .As a starter try Coles and Sognnes .

Geo Cur said...

RJl You can't directly date Scandinavian rock art .It is often dated approximately by association or read the the link mentioned in rthe post to Kostas about shore displacement . Other means include the similarity in artistic style and represenation of ships /boats which can be given more secure dating when similar motifs are found on razors found as grave goods or panels in cairns like Kivik . What more is there to say about the paint ? It was poor practice , done since the 60's and is now being curtailed . It might well ahve been done on the limited rock art at Stonehenge , luckily it wasn't ,it ahs no impact on the dating only the condition of the engravings .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Robert -- yes, I agree that the white horse repairs etc are jolly activities that arise out of people's natural desire to cherish ancient marks and keep them fresh. I don't think anybody is saying that "refreshing" the images in Northern Scandinavia and Russia has any influence over the dating.

as far as your ideas about water levels are concerned, you are talking rubbish as usual.

Bob said...


Is this the lecture you missed?

How Old is Water in the Deep Aquifer?

Using carbon-14 geochemical dating methods, the age of ground water sampled from well Y, which is completed in the deep aquifer and is near the western edge of the dune field (fig. 2), is about 30,000 years before present (plus or minus 3,000 years) (Rupert and Plummer, 2004). This age was determined using methods similar to those used to date charcoal found in firepits of archeological sites. The last major ice advance (Wisconsin) during the ice age peaked about 20,000 years before present (U.S. Geo­logical Survey, 1992); ground water from the deep aquifer is older than that.