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Rock Art as Secondary Agent? Society and Agency in Bronze Age Bohuslän

Journal article
Authors Johan Ling
Per Cornell
Published in Norwegian Archaeological Review
Volume 43
Issue 1
Pages 26-43
ISSN 0029-3652
Publication year 2010
Published at Department of Historical Studies
Pages 26-43
Language en
Keywords Rock art, Agency, Maritime, Warriors
Subject categories Archaeology


During the major part of the 20th century the rock art in Bohuslän has been seen as a manifestation of an agrarian ‘cultic’ ideology in the landscape. In this context the dominant ship image and the armed humans have been perceived as abstract religious icons, not as active symbols related to real praxis in the landscape. Moreover, some scholars claim that the rock-art medium was utilized primarily by society’s elites. In this paper we intend to challenge some of these ideas and try to show that they do not correspond to the key notions about Bronze Age society that most scholars today seem to support. Thus, rock art cannot be explained and understood solely by broad ideas about how cosmology, mythology and/or religion were constituted during the Bronze Age. We will instead argue for a more active function for rock art, and the fact that some of the depictions may have worked as ‘secondary agents’ in the landscape. For this argument, the general maritime location, content and the dominant masculine representation of armed humans related to the ship images are important elements. INTRODUCTION Chiefs, goods, commoners, farmers, pastoralists, Indo Europeans, druids, metal smiths and warriors, the list could have been made even longer than this, but it concludes the major interpretative trends, over the years, dealing with issues of the agency of rock art in Bohuslän. For most of the 20th century the rock art in Bohuslän was pictured by researchers in terms of a cultic agrarian ideology in the landscape whereas the dominant ship images and the armed humans were perceived as abstract religious icons, not as active symbols that related to real praxis in the landscape (Almgren 1927, Fredell 2003). But, if the rock-art ship and the armed humans were such strong religious symbols during the Bronze Age, why were they not depicted and dispersed

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