Eagle-Eyed Hiker Spots Bronze Age Rock Paintings in Norway

Tormod Fjeld and two friends have spent years searching for traces of rock art in their free time

Human images
Images of human figures are visible in the Bronze Age paintings. Jan Magne Gjerde / NIKU

For most, finding a millenia-old artifact in the wild is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But for Tormod Fjeld, who recently uncovered Bronze Age paintings in southeastern Norway, it was just another addition to a staggering collection of finds. He and two friends have brought hundreds of carvings to light in their free time.

“Yes, our families think we are crazy,” he tells Lisa Abend of the New York Times

But Fjeld was with his family when he made his latest discovery. They were hiking in the municipality of Moss, about 40 miles south of Oslo—and as they sat down for a break, Fjeld noticed a pattern in one of the rocks that the average hiker might have missed. 

He uploaded a picture onto an app on his phone, which helped distinguish between the rock’s natural colors and others that were added by hand. With the app’s help, he could see an image of a boat with oarsmen, along with at least one clearly defined animal figure and several human figures.

Full color glyphs
Fjeld used an app on his phone to amplify the contrast between the paintings and the rock. Jan Magne Gjerde / NIKU

Next, Fjeld called in experts, who confirmed that his discovery was special. Likely dating to the Bronze Age, the painting is likely the first of its kind to be found in this region of Norway, according to a statement from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU). 

“They are extremely hard to find due to the faintness of the paint,” Jan Magne Gjerde, a researcher with NIKU, tells Artnet’s Richard Whiddington. “Not many people have been looking for them, which is why not many have been found, though we are sure there are more paintings.”

Fjeld, however, is always looking for them. He stumbled upon his first petroglyph in 2016 on a walk with his dog, according to the Times. A graphic designer by trade, he didn’t know what to make of the strange markings, but he wanted to know more. He found a website with images of petroglyphs and contacted its owner, archaeologist Magnus Tangen. 

The two started searching for petroglyphs together. They were soon joined by Lars Ole Klavestad, who works as landscape architect and artist but has always been fascinated with petroglyphs; he discovered his first one at age 10. Over the past seven years, the three have spent many nights out together in all sorts of weather conditions. 

“This is not an 8 to 4 job,” Tangen tells the Times. “It has to be a passion.”   

The group has another reason for venturing out at night: The relief carvings of petroglyphs are actually easier to spot when the sun is setting or rising—or not out at all. Slanted light brings the ancient carvings to life. In fact, scientists have speculated that fire was once used near petroglyphs to create a moving picture effect.

Kristin Armstrong-Oma, an archaeologist at Norway’s University of Stavanger, tells the Times that “in excavations around some carvings, archaeologists have found signs of burning or charcoal … The living flames give the carvings a feeling of movement.”

Still, being thousands of years old, the glyphs can be difficult to detect. Bård Amundsen of Science Norway reported in 2020 that the trio took to using photogrammetry, the process of taking numerous photographs from many angles to create a 3D scan, in order to get a better look at the subjects.

The exact location of the newly discovered image will not be released to the public until researchers have had more time to study it. But that won’t stop Fjeld and his friends from heading back out in search of their next discovery.

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