A myriad of animal figures sketched in simple, elegant lines form a consecutive frieze on a smooth field of rock stretching down to the Tysfjord. It is the largest collection of the oldest type of rock art in Northern Norway; perhaps the people 9,000 years ago also thought the view of Mount Stetind was surreally beautiful?

Arms and legs

Elk and reindeer. A bear. A killer whale in life-size. A hare. Two swans with parallel necks. All the prehistoric figures on “Dyreberget” (The Animal Rock) are sketched with a light, natural elegance, and it is easy to see what they represent. Drawn one on top of the other, with one overlapping the next, they form a consecutive frieze of animal figures running down a large, smooth field of dark granite.

Best in evening light

The figures are not hewn out of the rock like most rock carvings, but polished. The thick, white outline that delineates each figure is not that easy to spot immediately. In the evening, when the sun is low and the light falls at a more oblique angle across the rock, they are however more easily visible.

Another landscape

Some 9,000 years ago, the landscape here in the outermost part of the Tysfjord was quite different. The waters of the fjord came much higher up, and the rock carvings were probably very close to the seasonal settlements, which again were down by the fjord’s edge. The deciduous forests and hayfields, which today we look down on from the rock where the carvings appear, emerged from the sea in the thousands of years after that. The majestic peaks on the other side of the Tysfjord, like the 1,392-metre (4,566 ft.) high Mount Stetind, were, however, there 9,000 years ago, when the carvings were made.

The oldest in Northern Norway

In the area between the Arctic Circle and Narvik, there is a group of rock carvings which are polished, not hewn into the rock. They are all very ancient, up to 9,000 years old, and give the same true-to-life depiction of animals that we find at Leiknes. The other rock carvings that are otherwise found in large numbers in Northern Norway are hewn from the rock, not polished. They also have a rougher, more stylised appearance. The group we find in Northern Nordland are thus strikingly different. They may possibly represent a separate culture or ethnic group that was different from the rest of the local population.

Why?

The animals are easily recognisable. What we do not know, however, is why the people made these animal figures, or what part the figures played in the lives of these prehistoric people 9,000 years ago. Might the artist have believed that he would have better luck hunting if he drew a picture of his prey? Or could the animals represent deities or ancestors? Perhaps the rock carvings marked the limit of a clan’s territory, or marked out a place where several clans gathered? We will probably never know the answer, so your interpretation of what the carvings mean may be every bit as good as the archaeologist’s.

Visits to Leiknes

Leiknes is only a few minutes’ drive from where the ferry docks at Bognes by the E6 in Tysfjord in Nordland. Follow a well-signposted road from the E6 to a parking area along a little country road. From here there is a 5-10 minutes’ walk along a path marked with round, white-painted stones, both effective and elegantly done. Read more about the sights in the area at www.hamsuns-rike.no, which also has an overview of accommodation and places to eat.