Meetings make History

At the end of May I visited Florø, western Norway as part of the scientific/steering committee for the ‘Meetings make History’ project run by Ingrid Fuglestvedt at Oslo University. The ‘Meetings make History’ project is based on Ingrid’s analysis and interpretation of the Stone Age rock art of Scandinavia, characterised by animal motifs.

She argues that the internal patterns on many animal motifs depict totemic relationships: motifs in different regions of Scandinavia are subtly different in form. We were in western Norway to visit one of the most spectacular rock art locations in Scandinavia (and possibly the world): Vingen.

I’ve always wondered whether the phrase ‘Meetings make History’ was meant to have a double meaning, as the project also incorporates occasional gatherings or meetings of archaeologists to discuss the progress of the project. The first day began with a superb set of papers from some of the people associated with the project. Astrid Nyland, a doctoral student on the project, began the day with a wonderful discussion of Stone Age quarry sites in Norway. The aim of the project is to map the relationship between quarry sites and rock art sites.

Following this Fredrik Hållgren gave an inspiring talk looking at the relationship between the hunter-gatherer cultures of northern Scandinavia and the farming cultures of southern Scandinavia, and the exchange of artefacts between them. One of his focuses was the slate knives of the northern cultures. He had done extensive fieldwork to trace their quarry sites, places of manufacture, use and exchange. It was incredible to see what detailed analysis and fieldwork can achieve. I was especially intrigued as I am currently thinking about the manufacture of Neolithic artefacts in NE Scotland.

The fun was to continue, as the irrepressible Jan Magne Gjerde, post-doctoral researcher on the project, gave a great presentation about encountering rock art at different times of year, by boat, or by skis. Jan Magne is always ‘value for money’ and in this presentation we were treated to a short film of him rowing out to a rock art location in the middle of a Finnish lake. It seems that many rock art sites may have been preferentially visited in winter, by skis, as they were easier to access then.

The centre piece of the morning was Ingrid’s presentation of her thinking about the project so far. This was quite simply astounding; a virtuoso piece of analysis and interpretation looking at totemic and animic relations in Stone Age art. Much of the rest of the meeting was spent debating this presentation.

Finally, the morning finished with a talk from Trond Lødøen, Bergen Museum, who discussed the sites we were to visit over the next few days. He also presented his new interpretation of Vingen and Ausevik. More on that later.

The first morning got us off to a great start, with lots of food for thought, lots of debate and discussion. Debates and discussion continued on our field trip that took place later that day. I will detail our adventures on the fieldtrip next time…

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