The Glösa Rock Art in Sweden Provides a Peek Into the Lives of Stone Age Hunters
One of the most interesting and enjoyable historic sites in the Scandinavian country of Sweden is Glösa. This is an area with remarkable prehistoric petroglyphs, excavated hunting pits, and a center that recreates the ancient past for visitors by offering a unique interactive experience and a real sense of how our distant ancestors lived.
Glösa’s Extraordinary Prehistoric Art Gallery
In Glösa, there are some 60 petroglyphs - stylized images that have been created by chipping away the surface of a rock. They are believed to have been made by ancient trappers between 3,000 and 5,000 thousand years ago.
Detail of a carving at Glösa rock art center. ( Glösa rock art center )
The majority of the carvings are of elk or moose. There are lines carved in animals’ bodies and lines connecting the animals to a circle or sun - either a representation of a heart or the source of life. Also present is a figure with a womb, possibly a female deity. All of these motifs symbolized important spiritual beliefs of the prehistoric hunters.
Detail of the Glösa rock art. (Britt-Marie Sohlström/ CC BY NC ND 2.0 )
The rocks here are ideal for carving and because of the beauty of the landscape, the early inhabitants may have used this as a spiritual site. A large rock, naturally shaped like an elk, could have been the location where they worshipped the spirit of the elk, as these were the main source of food for the prehistoric hunters in the area.
The elk, a large species within the deer family. ( CC0)
The carvings are now part of an open air museum known as the Glösa rock art center. The petroglyphs have been colored red to help visitors identify them, as it is believed that the original rock carvings of the elks and other figures were also brightly painted by the prehistoric artists who created the images.
Glösa has a Long History and it has been Occupied for Millennia
Today, it is a rich agricultural region, but in the past, it was rich hunting grounds. In recent decades, archaeologists have excavated over 90 trapping pits - large holes dug in the ground to trap prey. The traps were dug at a distance of 40-50 meters (approximately 150 feet) apart, camouflaged with tree branches and leaves, and then animals were driven into these pits by hunters. Trapping pits were used 5,000 years ago and were still being dug in the early 1800s.
The pits at Glösa are among some of the finest in Sweden, where there are an estimated 15,000 traps dug to catch elk, moose, and other animals. Four Viking era pits have been restored to provide visitors with a better understanding of ancient hunting techniques. It seems likely that villages were built at Glösa for the hunters and their families to live in during the hunting season.
A typical trapping pit in cross section. ( Göran Boström )
What to Do in Glösa
Within the heritage and visitors’ center at Glösa, the Elk Clan settlement recreates the life of the prehistoric hunters who once roamed this part of Sweden. A prehistoric birch and bark hut has been faithfully reconstructed based on one that was excavated in the region some years ago. There are also recreations of trappers’ elk hide garments which can be worn by visitors.
There is an exhibition in the Elk Hall of items and artifacts that would have been used by the prehistoric trappers who made the rock carvings, as well as a recreation of a Stone Age boat made of elk skins. This is modeled on the oldest boat ever discovered in Europe. Reproductions of Stone Age instruments, tools, and implements are also on display.
Glösa as seen from the road. (Britt-Marie Sohlström/ CC BY NC ND 2.0 )
The center offers the use of Stone Age tools to make a fire, as our prehistoric ancestors would have, and spear throwing and archery are also available. Meals of elk meat and flatbread, much like those eaten by the early hunters who once made this area their home, are served.
Glösa is located between Åre and Östersund in central Sweden. The center is easy to find. Parking is plentiful and guided tours of the rock carvings and traps are available. The center accepts bookings from groups and schools and accommodation near Glösa is not a problem.
Top image: Glösa rock art. Source: De Haas, Z./ CC BY SA 3.0
By Ed Whelan
Li Baudou, E. 1992. Forms of resource utilization within Hunting and Fishing cultures in Northern Sweden, 4000 BC-1 AD . Anthropologischer Anzeiger, pp.169-178. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/29540213?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
Ling, J. Skoglund, P. and Bertilsson, U. eds. 2015 . Picturing the Bronze Age (Vol. 3). London: Oxbow Books. Available at: https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C5&q=Sweden+petroglyphs&btnG=#d=gs_cit&p=&u=%2Fscholar%3Fq%3Dinfo%3AZgAWpits6fIJ%3Ascholar.google.com%2F%26output%3Dcite%26scirp%3D4%26hl%3Den
Sognnes, K. 2003. Land of elks–sea of whales: Landscapes of the Stone Age rock-art in central Scandinavia. European landscapes of rock-art (pp. 213-230). Routledge. Available at: https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/e/9781134517343/chapters/10.4324%2F9780203167526-17
as a Swede I have to clarify here that the elk they drew is definitely NOT the one which Americans call "elk" (which is not existing in Europe), but actually the animal elk which Latin name is Alces Alces and which is called "moose" in America. So the picture should be replaced by a European Elk / Moose. ;-)
This is absolutely correct.
Other question is about the supposed age of the carvings.
3000-5000 before now, sure?
I think it could even be significantly older...
The carvings are of a Eurasian Elk (Alces alces alces), which are a subspecies of moose. The article however, features a picture from Wikipedia of a Wapiti (Cervus canadensis) which are colloquially called "Elk" in North America, but are not naturally present outside the US and Canada.
There is a closely related species to the Wapiti in Europe, but it is called the Red Deer (Cervus elaphus), not Elk.