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Book: Animal Iconography in the Archaeological Record

Chapter: Horns as Symbols in Bronze Age Scandinavian Southern Tradition Rock Art

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.38885


Here I present a portion of my ongoing PhD research on human conceptualisations of non-human animals in the Southern Tradition of Bronze Age rock carvings from Sweden. Thousands of animal figures are carved in the exposed bedrock across this landscape, providing a rich yet underutilised source for investigating humananimal relations in prehistory. The figures are simplified, idealised, and sometimes stylised, and every part of each carving is painstakingly and intentionally created, shaped into physical manifestations of human ideas and intention. In this paper, I focus on the aesthetic and schematic choices made in depicting animals. I first consider how the defining visual characteristics chosen for animal carvings could have been influenced by animals’ real-life behaviours and roles in society. Each type of animal is identifiable by specific characteristics: oxen by curving horns, and horses, deer, and dogs by similar perky ears but distinguishable tails. The selection of specific body parts that are emblematic or definitive of an animal may reflect not only visual identifiers, but symbolically represent qualitative ones as well. Second, I analyse aesthetic connections between the shapes of animals and other figures in the carvings, for example between horses and ships or ox horns and hand gestures. I explore how interpreting these visual similarities as devices that relate the objects metaphorically can provide insight into prehistoric perceptions of the essential natures of these animals.

Chapter Contributors

  • Joanna M. Lawrence ( - jolawrence) 'University of Cambridge'