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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


The corpus of Scandinavian Southern Tradition rock art from the Bronze Age (1800-500 cal BC) incorporates the curved shape of ox horns in multiple modes. In addition to being the defining feature of the depictions of the animals themselves, in the carvings the horns appear clearly on the heads (presumably helmets) of some anthropomorphs, transposed onto the shape of the keels of ships from certain periods (Ling & Rowlands 2015), and also, as I will argue, in the depictions of anthropomorphs performing the ‘adorant’ or raised-arm gesture. In this chapter, I explore potential meanings for the ox-horn shape as a symbol through a quantitative exploration of its appearances in a sample of 84 panels from the province of Bohuslän, Sweden. My approach follows a semiotic perspective on this rock art, in which each element of the carvings is understood to carry meaning in relation to those situated within its shared visual ontology. I consider the ways in which the various forms interact with each other, and how they pattern in relationship to other features in the rock art. Through this, we discover whether understanding how the horn symbol is deployed in the rock art can help us understand its meaning, and what the symbolic use of an animal feature might reveal about the nature of human-animal relationships and the cultural concept of cattle in the Scandinavian Bronze Age.

Chapter Contributors

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