Sun Horses

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Scandinavian Bronze Age art features a number of motifs having to do with the movement of the sun through the heavens during the day and the underworld during the night. Here on Aard, we've previously seen a recently found sun-chariot rock carving, which most likely depicts a wheeled bronze model. But more commonly, there's a horse pulling the sun's disc across the sky without the benefit of wheels. This motif is known from several rock art sites on Sweden's west coast.

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Awesome rock art surveying team Roger Wikell, Sven Gunnar Broström and Kenneth Ihrestam have recently found the first two sun horses on the east coast. One is at Gärstad near Linköping in Ãstergötland (above), the other at Uggelbo in SmÃ¥land where Joakim Goldhahn's project is active (below). The three have a paper about the Gärstad find in Fornvännen's upcoming autumn issue!


I'm not one of those knowledge relativists who claim that the archaeological source material is constructed by the preconceptions of archaeologists. But I think these horses are clear examples of how important it is to have Roger & Co's deep and wide knowledge of the iconography in order to find and identify the rarer motifs. A successful rock art surveyor does not just go around looking for scratches in the rock and filling them in mechanically with chalk. S/he needs to know what to look for. Several scholars had documented the Gärstad horse before without apparently reflecting on what the strange "antler" groove sticking out of the horse's head might be, nor noting that the groove extends all the way to the large cupmark representing the sun. It pays to return to the archaeological record with new knowledge.

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Rock art is a fascinating subject. It presents a lot of difficulties, bit it is worth studying. The method we use is to create a mylar tracing of the image. The recorder "stipples" in the modified area (pecked, incised, or painted if it is a pictograph), thus producing a 1:1 scale rendering of the actual rock art, but without introducing any substance onto the rock surface. This technique has worked quite well here on both petroglyphs and pictographs, some of which are very faded. Let me give one example, an anthropomorph with a fully pecked torsoâor so it would seem. Actually, when tracing the pecked area, it turns out a central circular portion of the figure's body was left intact, it is not pecked and exhibits the natural rock surface. Is the figure merely "unfinished" or is this part of the iconography? Are there others like it? We would want to answer these questions. But first we have to know precisely which parts were actually modified.

Please elaborate: what shape does the mylar take, and what is that recorder? A machine or a person? Are we talking tracing onto plastic film with a marker?

Roger & Co found a great big ship a few years back, only the middle section was missing -- never been pecked in! Just two prows.

"But first we have to know precisely which parts were actually modified"

I would like a (probably far too expensive) high-tech approach. Scan the modfied area with a laser (or rather, several lasers) getting both a 3D recording, an image of any paint, the latter of which will be recorded in regard to polarization of the reflected light, albedo at several wavlengths and very subtle differences in grey scale.

In theory the surface of a "natural" pit in the stone which has been exposed long before the carving should have a subtly different substructure at the microscopic scale, on account of lichen or bacterial biofilms having been attached for longer. How to resolve the difference in a non-destructive way is a matter for wiser people than me.

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(OT) Greg Laden is differentiating the content of his blogs, apart from his blog at he has now started his "The X Blog" at Freethoughtblogs

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 01 Sep 2011 #permalink

What's that under the horse?

Cupmarks. Some oval ones at Gärstad. Above the Gärstad horse are two ships joined by a cupmark.

(OT) Inside Britain's biggest Iron Age fortress… It will be interesting to know why they invested so much work into that structure.

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By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 01 Sep 2011 #permalink

Sorry, I've been busy & didn't get back. Mylar sheets are taped up using, of all things duct tape which is found not to leave any residue. However, make the sheet large enough to extend beyond the rock art so no tape goes on any images. This might be a problem for really large panels. Permanent markers are used by the recorder to trace the image onto the mylar. Yes, by recorder I mean the person recording the site. The team found that stippling rather than line tracing produced the most accurate rendering with less "imaginative reconstruction" because they were not looking at what they thought the image "was" but just looking at pecked (or painted) areas. Also in the field digital & film photography, video, sketches. The mylar tracings are transferred to velum in the lab and preserved as high resolution scans for digital archive. Our team have done the 3D laser scanning too at some sites. Here's a link to that project.