The new database also means that the move of the SHFA research infrastructure from Vitlycke museum in Tanum to the University of Gothenburg is now complete.

New Rock art database launched at SHFAs kick-off


The Swedish Rock Art Research Archives are now moving entirely to the University of Gothenburg. A well-attended kick-off at Hum. It offers a number of new functions that the general public and researchers can use to search for rock carvings, including by map.

“Moving the archives from Tanum to the University of Gothenburg means we can interact with researchers and students and display our research in a completely new way,” says Johan Ling, Director of the Swedish Rock Art Research Archives (SHFA).

For 16 years, the SHFA has been communicating and publishing rock art documentation through a database, which has been visited by more than 2.2 million people from around the world. Now, Johan Ling and the other researchers at SHFA hope that the new updated database will lead to more people discovering this incredible material.

“We have been hugely looking forward to the new database. The images are now shown using IIIF, a high-resolution image format which means we can see new details in the rock carvings. Another new feature is the ability to search for rock art using a map interface,” says Johan Ling.

The new database, with many new functions, has been developed in partnership with the Gothenburg Research Infrastructure in Digital Humanities (GRIDH).

Johan Ling, Director, spoke about SHFA's future visions and current research projects during the kick-off.
Photo: Maria Persson

The new database was unveiled for the first time

The massive amount of interest that there is in both rock art and rock art research could be seen at the kick-off held at the Faculty of Humanities where the new database was unveiled for the first time. Rock art researchers active in Sweden and abroad attended the event, as did staff from Vitlycke Museum in Tanum and many other interested members of the public.

Mark Peternell, geologist and partner in one of the SHFA’s research projects, talked about the research stations in Tanum. These have enabled ultrasonic to be used to determine that rock carvers in the Bronze Age chose weak sections of the granite slabs on which to carve their art. Johan Ling says that this explains why the carvings were situated in certain spots, and in clusters, for example. The geologists have also been able to determine that the artists used a pointed tool to carve their designs into the rock.

Although the database is completely digital, the move to Gothenburg means that the SHFA now also has a lab in the Faculty of Humanities which it shares with the Gothenburg Research Infrastructure in Digital Humanities (GRIDH) and a natural science research cluster. In the lab, the SHFA works with artificial intelligence (AI) and images, and also with virtual reality (VR) and other forms of data-driven research.

“The new database will be developed further in the autumn in close collaboration with GRIDH. For example, eventually we will have 3D models of the rock art,” says Johan Ling.

The Swedish Rock Art Research Archives (SHFA) is the only research infrastructure in Europe to make rock carving documentation available to researchers, the education sector, and the general public. It currently contains approximately 120,000 images and documents scanned into the SHFA’s online database.

The database is linked to the Swedish National Heritage Board’s database for archaeological sites and monuments, Fornsök. The service provides information about all known registered ancient and historical remains in Sweden located on land and under water.

Many were interested in the SHFA's new lab during the kick-off.
Photo: Maria Persson

The SHFA has five research projects

As well as the database, the SHFA has five externally financed research projects focused on rock carvings.

Ashely Green, SHFA Research Engineer, gave a tour of the SHFA's new lab shared with GRIDH.
Photo: Maria Persson

“We also have a series of books published by the renowned academic publisher Oxbow Books in Oxford. Our eighth book will be coming out this autumn and is about our scans of rock carvings in Spain which we compared with rock carvings in Sweden,” says Johan Ling.

The SHFA is linked to the Department of Historical Studies and also runs university courses on site in Tanum, an aspect that director Johan Ling hopes the university will be able to continue even after the move.

Those who presented during the kick-off were SHFA's former director Ulf Bertilsson, Johan Ling, current director, deputy director Christian Horn, geologist Mark Peternell and GRIDH's research engineers, Siska Humlesjö and Tristan Bridge, who gave a tour of the new database.

Text: Cecilia Sjöberg

  • The database is online
  • The Swedish Rock Art Research Archives (SHFA) at the University of Gothenburg developed the database in partnership with the university’s Gothenburg Research Infrastructure in Digital Humanities (GRIDH). 
  • Scandinavian rock art is world famous, but it is difficult for both researchers and the general public to benefit from the material as the documentation of rock carvings was often in inaccessible formats and on sensitive materials stored in a number of different museums throughout Sweden.
  • Since it was founded in 2007, the SHFA has been working to develop a modern infrastructure by digitising, creating long-term storage, and archiving documentation of the prehistoric pictorial heritage that the rock art represents.
  • Over the years, the SHFA has conducted an inventory of rock carving documentation held in museums, by researchers, and in private and public archives. In total, this material spans 80 Swedish museums and archives and around ten international museums and archives, plus hundreds of thousands of documents in the form of depictions on paper and plastic, castings, photographs, maps and written descriptions. 
  • More information on the Swedish Rock Art Research Archives (SHFA)        
  • More information on the Gothenburg Research Infrastructure in Digital Humanities (GRIDH)