The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Alta Rock Art

Cup and Ring Marks / Rock Art


Robert Macfarlane's excellent book 'Underland' has a chapter on Red Dancers. In the opening passages he talks about the rarity of northern latitude painted cave art but goes to makes specific mention of the astonishing concentration of work in Alta, northern Norway.
"The main reason for this scarcity of painted art at higher latitudes is that much of this landscape was buried under glaciers until the end of the last Ice Age. 20,000 years ago, when the seventeen-foot long red aurochs was being painted in the Hall of the Bulls at Lascaux, in what is now the Dordogne, all of Scandinavia and most of Britain and Ireland was still glaciated. As the ice slowly retreated, it left behind a shattered landscape scoured of life. Northwards human colonization of this barren terrain happened only slowly.
Geology also has a role to play in the rarity of surviving northern-latitude painted cave art. Cave chambers form the most secure gallery sites for such art, and such chambers form most naturally in limestone: Lascaux, Chauvet, Altamira, - all of the most celebrated prehistoric art works were made in and on limestone. Limestone has the added curatorial power of often running a film of transparent calcium carbonate over wall paintings, which then sets and acts as a preservative varnish mitigating degradation of the pigments. Northern Europe is sparser in limestone than Spain and France, though, and richer in igneous and metamorphic rocks. Where caves or overhangs form in such rock types, they do so by the erosive forces of ice or sea water and as such tend to be shallower and rougher-sided. Their interiors lack the inviting canvasses of water-smoothed limestone. A jagged granite cavity does not offer the same pictorial possibilities as a limestone chamber pillared with stalactites. Artic-latitude prehistoric rock does exist in Europe, including the astonishing concentration of work at Alta in far northern Norway, where more than 6,000 images – predominantly petroglyphs – depicting reindeers, bears, humans, hunting scenes and the aurora borealis where made between c. 7,000 and 2,000 years ago on glacier-polished rock. But painted art – far more vulnerable to damage and weathering than incised imagery – is scant."
tjj Posted by tjj
18th November 2019ce

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