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Fast like a war canoe - Pragmamorphism in Scandinavian rock art

Chapter in book
Authors Christian Horn
Published in Prehistoric warfare and violence : quantitative and qualitative approaches / Andrea Dolfini, Rachel J. Crellin, Christian Horn, Marion Uckelmann, editors.
Pages 109-127
ISBN 978-3-319-78827-2
ISSN 2199-0956
Publisher Springer
Place of publication Cham
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Historical Studies
Pages 109-127
Language en
Keywords Rock art; Petroglyphs; Bronze Age; Scandinavia; Material culture; Body image; Pragmamorphism; Transformation
Subject categories Archaeology, History and Archaeology


The article discusses a category of petroglyphs dating to the Scandinavian Bronze Age (1750/1700–550 BC), in which ambiguous human bodies were constructed by replacing body parts with canoes, stylistic features of canoes, and weaponry. Using a body-centred approach, the article argues that the bodies or body parts of the warriors depicted on the petroglyphs were deliberately equated with objects. This indicates that their bodies were infused with certain defining characteristics of light watercraft and weapons such as ‘high speed’ and ‘dangerousness’. The concept of pragmamorphism is then introduced to explain this phenomenon. It posits that bodies or body parts may be imbued with the inner essence of things through a continuing learning process brought about by practice. This helps us understand why the bodies of Bronze Age warriors were equated with objects in Scandinavian rock art, in the context of martial activities including maritime raiding.

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