SWEDEN: Mention Scandinavia and the first thing that comes mind is likely to be the Vikings. Three of the five Nordic countries, Norway, Finland, and Sweden, make up a trio of peninsulas that extend like vast fingers of land. Those fingers yield to the sea, each with its own personality and characteristics that have been shaped through the centuries at the hand of Mother Nature herself.
With such geographical proximity to water in a region where the Arctic Circle comprises enormous chunks of land that were once buried beneath massive glaciers, it’s little wonder the indigenous people took to the sea in search of food, shelter and a warmer climate.
Much of what scientists have learned about mankind’s innate instincts for exploration has been learned thanks to relics, bones, architectural ruins, and the artistic renderings of the Vikings themselves and their ancestors.
In Tanum, Sweden, situated in the northern part of the Bohuslän province in the western region of the country, there is an abundance of Bronze Age rock carvings. The carvings are rich in artistic achievement for their varied depictions of humans and animals, weapons, boats and other symbols that represent the cultural and chronological unity of the life and beliefs of the people living in Sweden between 1700 BC and 500 BC.
As the glaciers of the Scandinavian Ice Sheet slowly receded to the north about 14,000 years ago, they left behind a sizable area of gently curved granite bedrock which became the “canvases” that were used by Bronze Age artists to record their history.
Today there are at least 1,500 known rock carving sites in northern Bohuslän concentrated in certain areas, including the parish of Tanum. The sheer number of carvings at Tanum alone (approximately 600) make it a stunning virtual outdoor laboratory with which to compare data in a concentrated area
This continuity of settlement combined with the ongoing practice of agriculture, as illustrated by Tanum’s rock carvings, archaeological vestiges, and modern landscapes demonstrates a remarkable permanence over the span of eight thousand years of human history.
Since 1994 the Rock Carvings at Tanum has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site. Other than the carvings on display at Vitlycke Farm, all of Tanum’s rock carvings are situated on private property.
Tanum is a place where the age of rocks reveals much about human life on the planet through the rocks of ages.
From the Bronze Age to the Iron Age another candidate for UNESCO World Heritage status can be seen at the southern part of Oland, a small island situated off the southeastern coast of Sweden.
Eketorp is an Iron Age fort that was extensively reconstructed and enlarged during the Middle Ages. Over the centuries Eketorp has been used as a defensive ringfort thanks to its circular design, a medieval safe haven, and a cavalry garrison.
More recently in the 20th century, it was further reconstructed to become a heavily visited tourist site and a location for the re-enactment of medieval battles.
Eketorp is the only one of the 19 known prehistoric fortifications on Öland that has been completely excavated. That excavation yielding a total of over 24,000 individual artifacts.
The original fortification was built around 400 AD. This was during a time when Oland had established contact with Romans and other Europeans.
Most researchers believe the ringfort was constructed and used initially as a gathering place for religious ceremonies as well as a place of refuge for the local agricultural community when an outside enemy appeared.
The circular design of the stronghold is believed to have been chosen because the terrain is so level that attack from any side was equally likely. The original diameter of this circular stone fortification was about 187 ft, however, in the next century, the stone was moved outward to 260 ft in diameter.
At this juncture, there were known to be about fifty individual cells or small structures within the fort. Some of these cells were in the center of the fortified ring. Others were actually built into the wall itself.
The ringfort was mysteriously abandoned in the middle of the 7th century, remaining unused until the early 11th century when it was reconstructed in large part by building upon the original structure. A second exterior defensive wall was added and as a cost measure the stone interior cells were replaced
In its current incarnation, Eketorp Fortress is primarily a tourist site that allows visitors the opportunity to experience a medieval fort that was typical of the region.
A museum within the castle walls displays some of the 26,000 artifacts that were retrieved by the National Heritage Board during the decade long excavation ending in 1974.
Inside the fort, visitors are greeted by employees wearing the correct costumes, from the period 400-650. There are daily activities during the summer season, mid-June to mid-August. These include bow and arrow training, bread baking, and many activities for children.
There are also some small typical thatched-roof dwellings scattered throughout the grounds.
Be it bronze, iron, or any time in between, Sweden is a destination for the ages.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.