Rock Carvings in the Borderlands

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Solberg, Østfold

Bohuslän/Dalsland in Sweden and Østfold in Norway. An INTERREG IIA project. Final report.

by Jan Magnusson


This is a brief presentation of a final report of an extensive INTERREG IIA project Rock Carvings in the Borderlands that was the result of a co-operation during 1996 to 2000 between the County Administrative Board of Västra Götaland in Sweden and Østfold County Council in Norway.

The location of the project area

The project was partly financed by the European Regional Development Fund and by Norwegian government Interreg funds.

The border region comprises the counties of Bohuslän/Dalsland in Sweden and Østfold in Norway contains has one of the richest occurrences agglomerations of rock carvings in the world. Within this area, more than 75,000 images into 5,000 sites have been carved or hacked into the rock. The choice of motifs is rich and varied – from simple cup marks and circular figures circles to advanced, artistically carved images more complex designs like artistic depictions of people, ships, animals and weapons. The images are often combined to form scenes and expressive compositions. These rock carvings are an art treasure and an invaluable part of Europe’s prehistoric cultural heritage. UNESCO has therefore included the rock carvings at Tanum, Bohuslän on its the World Heritage List of Sites.

The images that were once carved into the rock – at that time the most durable material known to man – are now beginning to show signs of heavy degradation and are disappearing at an increasing rate. It seems that this is mainly due to a combination of two factors; increasing air pollution caused by man and natural weathering. If this degradation is allowed to continue at its present rate, many priceless rock carvings will soon be destroyed and as a consequence the region will loose an important part of its cultural identity.

Common rock carving motifs from Solberg, Østfold. (Photo: Jan Magnusson)

Weathered rock surface at Björneröd, Tanum, Bohuslän. (Photo: Bengt A Lundberg)

The aim of the INTERREG IIA project, Rock Carvings in the Borderlands, was to establish an inter-disciplinary, cross-border network of the most highly qualified experts from Norway and Sweden in order to improve the knowledge and the tools for an effective management of rock art and thus make it possible both to preserve and to use the rock carvings to develop a sustainable cultural tourism. In order to fulfil this task the project has achieved the following goals:

  • The development of a network of experts, in many cases with world-leading knowledge and experience of their discipline, from all the fields that are
  • Education and training of students, primarily in the documentation and care of rock carvings. This guarantees future competence within the field and thus creates favourable conditions for the long-term management of the rock art.
  • The development of an efficient and user-friendly IT tool for the administration and documentation of the rock carvings has entailed great savings in time and increased efficiency. All present information and documents can now be collected in one place and easy to access. The development of the database has also brought about a quality-assured documentation standard, which means that the information about the rock carvings is of an equal standard and can be used for comparison.
  • Research regarding the degradation of the rock surfaces and the underlying mechanisms shows that dry deposits, moisture and high temperatures contribute to the initial chemical weathering and that high salt concentrations, temperatures fluctuating around freezing and large daily temperature variations contribute to the following, and significantly more rapid, physical weathering.
  • We also know that covering the rock with an insulating layer is an effective protective measure that can reduce the rate of physical weathering of a seriously weathered rock by more than 1000 times.
  • The development of a documentation standard has significantly improved the quality of both the archaeological documentation and the damage surveys.
  • As part of the project, two complementary methods of pictorial documentation were developed, frottage (rubbing) and tracing onto plastic.
  • A technique has been developed during the project for the direct conversion of field reproductions into digital form. This has opened up a whole host of new possibilities and areas of use for the pictorial information.
  • The excavations that have been conducted as part of the project have produced new and important material that better allows us to understand the social and cosmological context of the region’s rock carvings.
  • Through the publication of a book, information folders and our website, we have attempted to spread and increase knowledge of and respect for the region’s rock art, and have accordingly opened the way for the development of sustainable culture tourism in the area.
  • The project has importantly contributed to focussing both interest and investments on the region.

A research site in Tanum, Bohuslän, designed to investigate the mechanisms of weathering. Photo: Jan Magnusson)

A plastic tracing is discussed by some of the participants in a documentation seminar (From left to right: David Vogt, Ulf and Catarina Bertilsson, Gerhard Milstreu, Jarl Nordbladh and Kenneth Ihrestam). (Photo: Jan Magnusson)

250 people participated in the project over a 4-year period, totalling 64 man-years and the total turnover was 5,5 million euros.
The final report can be ordered free of charge from

Jan Magnusson,
County Administrative Board
of Västra Götaland,
SE-403 40 Göteborg, Sweden

A rock carving site at Fossum, Bohuslän, prepared for public access with a platform, information signs and a car park. (Photo: Jan Magnusson)

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