Battle to save pristine prehistoric rock art from vast new quarry in Norway | Norway

One of the largest and most significant sites of rock art in northern Europe is under “catastrophic” threat.

The Vingen carvings, in Vestland county, Norway, are spectacular, and include images of human skeletons and abstract and geometric designs. Even the hammer stones, the tools used by the ancient artists to create their compositions, have survived.

Now archaeologists warn that the site is facing a “catastrophic” threat after a quarry, a shipping port and a crushing plant in the area of nearby Frøysjøen received planning permission in February.

George Nash, a British archaeologist and specialist in prehistoric art at Liverpool University, told the Observer that Vingen was an internationally important site featuring more than 2,000 carved figures. He is “shocked the Norwegian authorities want to stick a dirty great quarry nearby”.

“Its exquisite, prehistoric engraved rock art was made when hunter-fisher-gatherers roamed the landscape 6,000 to 7,000 years ago. Any interference from large-scale quarrying will have an adverse effect on this landscape,” Nash said, adding that the “eventual outcome looks terrifying … We are on a destructive trajectory of losing a remarkable landscape and its long history.”

Trond Lødøen, associate professor in archaeology at the University Museum of Bergen in Norway, says Vingen is exceptional because the landscape is pristine and barely changed since the rock art was created – apart from the sea level, which was probably six metres higher. Rock art, also known as petroglyphs, is of most cultural and anthropological value when its location is undisturbed.

He said: “We have the art in its original location. We have the landscape, which is intact. We have hardly any human-made noise.”

He described the stone age rock carvings as “extraordinary”, partly because there are so many of them: “It’s like a pictorial language.”

Vingen, the site of the 7,000-year-old rock art. Photograph: The University Museum of Bergen

For Nash, the carvings of deer are particularly fascinating. “Unusually, red deer – and what I think are elk – are depicted here in large groups, both adults and juveniles. But in reality they are solitary animals. I think the artists were creating a narrative about human society.”

To impinge upon this art and this location with the expected contamination of noise, light and dust, could, said Lødøen, have “a devastating impact”. “It is claimed the distance between the quarry, the port, the conveyor belts, the blasting from the quarry, the tunnel and numerous other factors are too far away, but this is not the case. The impact from a more distant quarry is already noticeable. There are vibrations from the blasting there.”


A Dutch company will reportedly operate the quarry, with plans to extract 360m tons of stone. The Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development approved the quarry – which will be situated on the peak of the Aksla mountain – despite concern from the National Antiquities Office regarding the damage to the cultural heritage, and protests from the Norwegian Environmental Protection Association and the Historical Association. The ministry concluded that “the societal benefit of the planned quarrying is great”, adding that its sandstone is “a finite resource, for which there is great demand”. It is hoped the quarry at Aksla will provide opportunities for new jobs.

Lødøen warned that the plans would only destroy the best opportunities for the region – “tourism, education, cultural knowledge”.

Nash said: “Does the economic project outweigh the cultural heritage and the environment? The answer’s no. Once you’ve screwed up that landscape, that’s it. It’s screwed …

“Why do they have to pick Vingen? Why can’t they pick somewhere 20km to the north or south of the site, where there’s no potential prehistoric activity? If you see the photographs of Vingen, it’s a very tranquil and unique site. This is just wrong.”

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