Hagbard’s Scaffold

Sweden’s bedrock has been entirely abraded by the inland ice. It sanded down the country like a big wood planer, leaving smooth lovely outcrops known as hällar all over the place. This is the main natural prerequisite of Sweden’s rich rock art tradition. Most of it dates from the Bronze Age, 1700–500 BC.

Denmark hardly has any visible bedrock, so they don’t have much rock art over there, and what they do have tends to be on boulders. It is thus hardly surprising that when you do find figurative art on boulders in Sweden, it tends to be in the provinces closest to Denmark.

Near Asige church in Halland we have one of the most monumental examples of this. Two flat stone grave markers and two pairs of big honking menhirs with rock art on them! One pair has become embellished with an antiquarian name: Hagbards galge, “Hagbard’s Scaffold”. This refers to a tale told by Saxo Grammaticus in his History of the Danes and is probably a coinage from about 1800: after us Scandies rediscovered Medieval literature but before we realised that the world is considerably more than 6000 years old. There was a time when intellectuals thought that all Scandinavian antiquities could be explained with reference to the Sagas.

The legendary rock art surveyors Sven-Gunnar Broström and Kenneth Ihrestam have often figured here on the blog. Now they have reexamined and documented Hagbard’s Scaffold, finding lots of previously unseen motifs. (But first the County Archaeologist had someone kill and remove all the lichen on the stones.) This transforms the monument from a group of menhirs with some rock art on them into honest-to-goodness pictorial stelae! Though the mate of the birth-giver stele has only cupmarks and the mate of the shield-bearer stele has no markings at all.

Broström, S-G & Ihrestam, K. 2015. Hagbards galge. Raä 17 i Asige socken, Halland. Rapport över dokumentation av hällristningar 2015. BOTARKrapport 2015-29. Botkyrka.

Stele A, south side. The previously known concentric circles representing the sun and/or a shield have now been found to have two legs and a head, that is, we are looking at a person holding a shield and/or the sun.

Stele A, south side. The previously known concentric circles representing the sun and/or a shield have now been found to have two legs and a head, that is, we are looking at a person holding a shield and/or the sun.

Stele B, north side. Most people in Scandy rock art are just stick figures, so gender is sometimes difficult to judge. An oversized erection identifies men, like the guy bottom left. A ponytail hairdo is a common identifier for women, and there are cases where the ponytail is combined with a cupmark in the crotch. This attribute identifies the two otherwise ungendered top figures on the stele as women. Their unusual, extremely wide-legged stance suggests to me that the artist is emphasising female fertility. The concentric circles represent the sun and/or a shield here too.

Stele B, north side. Most people in Scandy rock art are just stick figures, so gender is sometimes difficult to judge. An oversized erection identifies men, like the guy bottom left. A ponytail hairdo is a common identifier for women, and there are cases where the ponytail is combined with a cupmark in the crotch. This attribute identifies the two otherwise ungendered top figures on the stele as women. Their unusual, extremely wide-legged stance suggests to me that the artist is emphasising female fertility. The concentric circles represent the sun and/or a shield here too.

Stele B, east side. The curved horizontal line and the horizontal ladder are both remains of the era's ubiquitous ships.

Stele B, east side. The curved horizontal line and the horizontal ladder are both remains of the era’s ubiquitous ships.

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First 4-Wheel Wagon In Swedish East Coast Rock Art

Bronze Age rock art along Sweden’s south-east coast is rich but not as varied as that of the famous west-coast region. One motif that we have been missing is the four-wheel wagon. It isn’t common anywhere except on one site, Frännarp in inland Scania (below right), but we have had none whatsoever where I am.

Wagons at Frännarp in Scania

Wagons at Frännarp in Scania

The other day we got our first wagon: at the rich classical site of Himmelstalund on the outskirts of Norrköping in Östergötland province. According to period convention, it is depicted in a flattened perspective with the wheels seen from the sides and the carriage from the top. The drawbar is cut by a later ship (off camera), and it appears that there were never any draught animals. The wagon probably dates from the centuries about 800 BC.

This rock art is carved into the smooth surfaces left by the inland ice. The paint and chalk is recent. The red-painted figure above the Himmelstalund wagon is a pair of incomplete foot soles or shoes. The thin chalk lines represent two ships that appear to have been mostly weathered away before the wagon was carved. People returned to these panels and made additions for centuries.

Note that the person who painted the foot soles didn’t see the wagon or the faint ships! This shows how important it is to return to rock art panels regularly with skilled personnel for renewed study. In this case I can take a small amount of avuncular pride in the find, because Theres Furuskog is a long-time collaborator of mine who has done GPS surveying, fieldwalking and metal-detecting with me on many sites in Östergötland and Södermanland. She has also worked for years with cleaning and painting rock art. Her find is a prime example of how important it is to employ educated, intelligent and experienced people for such tasks.

Another fine first in east-coast rock art was the sun horse of nearby Gärstad, found in 2011.