Chariot of the Sun

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Bronze Age Scandinavians believed that the sun was pulled across the sky in a chariot by a horse. They built models depicting this out of cast bronze. A well-preserved one has been found at Trundholm on Zealand, and fragments remain of one from Tågaborg in Scania. They also depicted the motif on burial razors and, rarely, rock-carvings.

i-5b426cd6f6fc3aec222da8888253157b-Solvagn Casimirsborg.jpgThe other day (when I found some humble cupmarks), my friends Roger Wikell and Sven Gunnar Broström found the first sun-chariot carving on Sweden’s east coast: at Casimirsborg in Småland. They are working there with fellow rock-art authorities Joakim Goldhahn and Kenneth Ihrestam. The team has also found more than a hundred carved ships, making Casimirsborg Småland’s heaviest rock-carving location. This is the data coverage we’re working with: all you have to do to re-draw the map completely is send a surveyor with specialised knowledge into one of the white spots. Well done, guys!

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Photographs of the carving: top painted one by Joakim Goldhahn, bottom chalked one by Emelie Svenman.

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Comments

  1. #1 Pierce R. Butler
    May 1, 2010

    Bronze Age Scandinavians believed that the sun was pulled across the sky in a chariot by a horse.

    Any idea whether they worked up this concept on their own or borrowed it from from those colorful characters to the south?

  2. #2 ArchAsa
    May 1, 2010

    Yay! Another score for good old-fashioned archaeology.
    Do you know if any of the West coast chariot carvings actually loook like this? The ones I recall looked rather different, but this is so not my area of expertise…

  3. #3 kai
    May 1, 2010

    And moreover, did they actually believe this to be literal truth, or did they just consider it a nice metaphor that easily lent itself to depiction?

  4. #4 Martin R
    May 1, 2010

    Pierce, I believe the carvings are about the same age or a bit older than as the first Greek poems to mention Phaeton, so we don’t know where the concept originated. It’s one of the candidates for pan-Indo-European mythical motifs. Actually survived into the Viking Period and pops up in Snorri!

    Åsa, “old-fashioned” as in “engaging empirically with the world”, yes… I believe all other carved sun chariots are depicted with their horses, but I know very little.

    Kai, sorry, can’t answer that one. And I suggest you scoff at anyone who claims to know.

  5. #5 Pierce R. Butler
    May 1, 2010

    Actually survived into the Viking Period and pops up in Snorri!

    Read Harry Harrison’s The Technicolor Time Machine to learn why anachronistic allusions are only to be expected from Snorri Thorfinnsson.

  6. #6 Phillip IV
    May 2, 2010

    Kai @ #3:

    And moreover, did they actually believe this to be literal truth, or did they just consider it a nice metaphor that easily lent itself to depiction?

    Or, as a third option, did it vary from person to person – perhaps depending on age, social status, degree of education? All three scenarios are possible, but there’s hardly a shred of evidence to go on (or actually, no evidence, which you can uprate into hardly a shred with the help of wild conjecture).

  7. #7 Roger Wikell
    May 2, 2010

    Hi

    Some comments:

    I and Sven-Gunnar Broström found this picture together. Earlier I and Joakim Goldhahn had walked through this area and found nothing. Later on I and Kenneth Ihrestam found some carvings a few meters away from this spot. Some day later we checked the rock surface again. And this time we did saw a lot of things because the sun was setting in the afternoon. The light come in from the side making shadows in the carvings. There are more to see in the picture above. We will soon make artificial light in the night to carefuly scrutinize the rock carvingS.

    This new picture reminds of a rock carving at Backa, Brastad, Bohuslän (swedish west coast). The sun symbol (the big circle) is standing on a stative, on a wagon with small wheels (two small circles). From these are two lines going forward (straight down in the picture above, but not painted this time). These two lines has been connected to a horse, we think.

    A similar sun-symbol are at hand in two cases in bronze. One from Tryserum (some distance north of the actual rock carving) and at Eskelhem on Gotland.

    The surveying of rock art is lead by prof Joakim Goldhahn in the project “Bilder av ostkustens bronsålder”, with support from Crafoordska Stiftelsen. Many thanks.

    / Roger Wikell

    Ps. Martin! We have another Sun-Horse. Manuscript is soon ready for delivery to the Journal Fornvännen. Ds.