Scandinavia Rock Art | Tanum Petroglyphs


BRONZE AGE Petroglyphs | TanumSHEDE | WEst Sweden

Nearly two thousand years before Viking legend Ragnar Lothbrok and his progeny prowled the fjords and forests of Scandinavia, ancient civilizations were already making distinct marks defining cultures and religions across this region. Oh sorry, hold up – you don’t know of Ragnar Lothbrok? Don’t watch the HBO series, The Vikings? His story is epic. No? It’s ok. Don’t worry. It isn’t required before visiting the Tanumshede petroglyphs. You’ll learn plenty while on site. And anyway, this is about pre-Viking peeps. We’re going all the way back to the Bronze Age. In Scandinavia. West Sweden to be specific. Västsverige.


Scattered along a 25km stretch of what used to be a fjord, circa 1500 B.C.E., the area around Tanumshede, Sweden is home to the largest concentration of Bronze Age rock carvings in all of Scandinavia. Thousands of images have been chipped into the flat rolling granite stone that is characteristic here. And while you need not seek out all 600 panels in existence, you can prioritize a few and get a little more perspective about the ancient peoples who lived on this land.

Location of Bronze Age Petroglyphs | WEST SWEDEN | via Bradshaw Foundation
PETROGLYPHS = rock carving or drawing

The petroglyphs around Tanum aren’t actually carvings per se. And don’t call them decoration. Although I can definitely see their graphic potential. They are well executed and super interesting. Anthropologists believe that these images were chipped into the stone to be used as a practicable road map of sorts – outlining the religion, rituals, and hierarchy of these ancient societies. Nowadays, we can readily see them in well-marked and easy to find sites, recognized by UNESCO World Heritage Convention since 1994.


Many of the images on the panels have been highlighted in bright red or white paint. And although controversial from a preservation perspective, I will admit the color helps instantly identify the iconic imagery and makes it fun to find. Especially when you are searching for specific shapes sited on the nearby signs; luckily presented in several languages. When looking at those panels that are not painted, the distinctive shapes become decidedly more difficult to discern. I truly believe my children would have been much less interested in the outing without the colored, easy to read pictures.


We stayed in nearby Fjällbacka and made a half-day trip to check out some of the panels at Litsleby and Aspeberget. Litsleby is famous for its depiction of a Spear god, possibly even Odin, the leader of the Norse Gods. Standing at 2.3 m, this is the largest figural petroglyph in all of Scandinavia. He is impressive. All of him. Is that a spear in your hand or are you just happy to see me? Hello, Odin.

Scandinavian Rock Art | Bronze Age Petroglyphs | Tanumshede Sweden via Oregon Girl Around the World

And while the king of Nordic Mythology may have had the largest (you know what) my favorite depictions were of the vessels. (Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching too much “Vikings.”) But the elegant and easily recognizable ships seemed to sail across the stone. Besides dozens and dozens of ships, we could also point out reindeer and humans and bulls and balls. I’m not being cheeky. It’s true. They’re all there. And it was truly entertaining traipsing around Tanum to find them. Even in winter, when the weather can be windy, we had fun climbing around rocks in the West Sweden hills.


Vitlycke 2, 457 93 Tanumshede, Sweden
Interactive experience detailing Bronze Age settlements and artifacts.
Every day May-September 10-18:00 plus Saturday and Sundays starting late March and into early November. Check website for details.


Tanum Camping
Vitlycke 4, 457 93 Tanumshede, Sweden
Tel +46(0)525 200 02
Conveniently located across the street from the museum; cabins and plots for rent.


Stora Hotellet Bryggan
Ingrid Bergmans Torg
Reception: Galärbacken 2, 457 40 Fjällbacka, Sweden
Tel: +46 (0)525-76 50 20

STAY IN Grebbestad:

Tanum Strand Hotel
Tanum V, 457 95 Grebbestad, Sweden
Tel: +46 525 190 00


As a family of five, we prefer the space and flexibility of renting a home or apartment. There are many for rent in this area, start by searching near Fjällbacka and Grebbestad, both adorable outposts with groceries, shops, restaurants and things to do. Never used Airbnb? Click here to get 255Dkk off your first booking. Not in Denmark? Don’t worry – your discount will convert to the correct currency.

Know someone who might be interested? Share it! Want to see them for yourself? Save it for later!

Scandinavian Rock Art | Bronze Age Petroglyphs | Tanumshede Sweden via Oregon Girl Around the World


Suitcases and Sandcastles
the Pigeon Pair and Me

60 thoughts on “Scandinavia Rock Art | Tanum Petroglyphs

  1. Pingback: Faraway Files #16 - oregon girl around the world

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      I think they had more fun just running on the trails and finding the next panel… not necessarily that interested in meanings and beliefs behind them. That’s ok – I’ll take it. When someday they are in a class studying about petroglyphs and anthropology and Bronze Age cultures – they’ll be like – HEY! I saw that. That’s what I’m hoping at least. One can hope. Cheers! Erin

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      So much to see and do in Sweden and they have such a wonderful approach to how to experience the outdoors. I can highly recommend a visit. Cheers from Scandinavia! Erin

  2. What? The original drawings were painted over? Did I read that correctly? In Australia that would be considered a national scandal so I am not surprised it is controversial. I am glad to see my drawing skills are equivalent to those of the Vikings.. actually theirs are better. Fascinating insight into an ancient culture #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      It doesn’t seem to cause too much stir up here, probably because the indigenous cultures who created them have evolved into the same people that still live here. I would have to believe that there is a larger concern in Australia about destruction to aboriginal cultures who are still practicing some of the ancient techniques that call for preservation. No one carves in rocks anymore up here. At least not with Bronze Age tools. Phoebe also shared shock in comparison to French cave paintings and how human manipulation is so forbidden that humans can’t even view the caves where paintings are want to be preserved. I know it is controversial, and maybe as a UNESCO site, it will have an impact on whether they continue to be highlighted by paint. Or whether the argument is, who would find them if they weren’t? Don’t know the answer. But did enjoy the lesson and can appreciate the controversy.

  3. Spear god is rather well endowed isn’t he?!! But on a more serious note I find it incredible that the original images have been coloured in to make it easier to see. In France you can’t even go into some of the caves where ancient rock art has been found in order to preserve it! Two extreme opposite takes on preservation! #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      It is controversial that the images have been painted, especially when their exposure to the elements has already impacted their preservation. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1994, so you would hope that might impact the archival prospects of these interesting artifacts, but the paint looked newer than that, so not sure what the current status on foregoing paint for future generations.

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Me too! Kind of obsessed with the series actually! These are similar to cave paintings, but out in the open and carved into the rock rather than just painted. It was cool. Cheers, Erin

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      BAHAHAHA! Right? Watch out. There were actually a lot of “spears” out in many panels, ancient rituals? It didn’t distract the kids too much luckily! Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      I have to be a little more subtle about it these days, my teens and tweens are quick to sniff me out if I shove too much history on them when on holiday, but my teen and tween did enjoy forested walk, especially after being couped up in our Swedish cottage due to winter storm the day before! Cheers, Erin

  4. What a fascinating place to visit! It does seem really wrong though that the original drawings have been re-coloured in red, but I suppose that in a way it could be argued that this has helped continue the story/history for future people to see… This place would be such a great learning experience for kids. #FarwayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      I know Ali – I have mixed feelings about it, but am focusing on the positive that it allows more people to engage with an ancient tradition that has long since passed away.

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Yes – we love Sweden and all the of opportunities to explore outside, especially as we live IN the city in Copenhagen – it is a nice break to #Getoutside! Cheers, Erin

  5. Clare Thomson

    Fantastic way of getting kids into ancient history, Erin. Mine would love to hunt out the rock art here. #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      I didn’t either Catherine until I started investigating activities around Fjällbacka, Sweden where we spent Christmas this year. We lucked out with a sunny winter day and enjoyed tracking them down. Beautiful countryside over there! Cheers, Erin

      1. Wondering about purchasing one of those… what’s the learning curve like as far as editing goes… also have to consider my computer is already bursting with too many photos…

      2. oregongirlaroundtheworld

        Do you know how to use iMovie? You can edit simply from your phone, adding titles, transitions and music. Or make it as complicated as you want it to be – I’m going for easy right now. 😉

  6. tracycollins2016

    Fascinating stuff! Will be visiting these one day as I have a quest (not sure what the prize will be though!) to visit as many UNESCO WHS as possible!

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Tracy – I thought of your love of UNESCO sites when I wrote it! Hope you make it there – go when the Vitlyke museum is open – looks very special. Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin (Headed here soon?)

  7. Its so fantastic when you come across somewhere you have never heard of and never been and really have your eyes opened. As an ex archaeology student I found this fascinating. Thanks for sharing and thanks for hosting #faraway files

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Happy dance! That is exactly what #FarawayFiles is supposed to do – take you to places that you didn’t know! Happy to have you engaged with our travel community – cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      I think so too! My kids have gone to Viking camp with their school and loved learning about them, so was familiar with some of the iconography of their ancestors. I love when history feels real. Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

  8. Okay.. I haven’t even had enough time to brush up on my Viking knowledge before our Scandinavia trip in June, and we’re talking about PRE-Viking now. I’m not sure how I’m going to fit all these information into my head. Maybe watching the HBO series would help. #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Oooh! Where are you going? If you need any tips – let me know! (And beware – The Vikings is a little gory sometimes!)

      1. I hardly planned anything yet! Only book flights and cruise. I am flying into Copenhagen and have 5 nights before we hop on a cruise on our 6th day, and after the cruise we have 1 night in Copenhagen before flying back. I’m having trouble arranging my itinerary so that I can cover Billund as well. The kids want to go to Legoland. So I thought I would rent a car to drive to Billund. And since I’m going to pay the toll to cross the bridge, I should make my money worth and visit Funen and as well? Then I realise I don’t have a full day in Copenhagen for Tivoli. It’s really driving me crazy.

        And the other thing driving me crazy is that the airport hotel is mad expensive on my last night? The price is alright at SGD400+ for other nights, but somehow for the last night it is almost double. So I don’t know where to stay for my last night coz I wanted to be near the airport.

  9. Ruth

    I have not see The Vikings, do not have HBO ;0( I am sure it is an interesting show. Anyway, I am impressed by the size and details of the petroglyphs in this area. To me, carvings / paintings like this are surrounded by an aura of mystery. Here in the Western United States, we have several places full of petroglyphs. I have not been to the bigger sites but have been amazed by what I have seen. Of course, what you are presenting in here predates (by many, many years) what we have here (which makes it even more interesting). #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Ruth – where have you visited in the States? We haven’t seen petroglyphs, but did visit the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, which were amazing! Cheers and thank you for connecting with #FarawayFiles – Erin

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Are you a Game of Thrones fan? If you are – you will probably love Vikings. If you didn’t like GOT – it is a great and interesting series – but can be a little like a violent Scandinavian soap opera at times! I’m hooked! And it’s based on real people – which Thrones isn’t. Anyway – it may not be for everyone – but we really enjoy it!

  10. Yes I quite agree about the red paint – part of preserving things like this is making it more comprehensive to the visitor and the experience wouldn’t have been nearly as good if they’d not used it. Especially for the kids like you say. But then I’m no purist! #farawayflies

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Alex – I think that is exactly the basis for why it was done in the first place. I am conflicted on how I feel about it – knowing it isn’t best for conservation, but that also people may not care about it so much if they don’t engage with it. It was interesting regardless! Thanks for engaging with #FarawayFiles – cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

  11. You mean they actually painted on the ancient rock art or is it a recreation of the rock art that was found in the area? I do hope it was the latter.

  12. This is beautiful: a beautiful place to visit and a beautiful post (not to mention the beautiful video!). We were in Fjällbacka in summer 2010 but had no idea that these were nearby {shakes head sadly…}. And I’m no purist either – the red paint is a good idea, simple.
    #FarawayFiles and #CulturedKids

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Oooh – sorry you missed them, especially because you were so close! I was luckily recommended to seek them out, but fairly easy to find once you know where to look! I loved Fjällbacka – so adorable. Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

  13. First off I need to say that recently EVERYONE has been talking about this Vikings show! My boss is obsessed ! ha. I think I need to finally watch it. This seems like such a cool experience. I agree with some that it’s a bit … destuctive? of them to paint the petroglyphs but also agree it would be decidedly less enjoyable to have to strain to see the images. Really cool post 🙂

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Haha! Yes – Vikings is super popular in my circles too! I’m torn on whether painting them is a good thing or a bad thing, can appreciate both sides. Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

  14. Amazing, this is indeed educational – thanks to you, I’m learning more and more about Denmark and the Scandinavian lands 🙂 The rock art is really vivid, love the video… #farawayfiles

  15. Very interesting site and the controversy of the paint. The bright red looks pretty aggressive. I hope it doesn’t cause damage. Still, I suppose they paint over all the white horses and the cern abbas giant in the UK. I would love to visit the area for all the Viking history. #CulturedKids

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