Rock carvings at Tennes

Rock carvings at Tennes

The rock carvings at Tennes in Balsfjord, Norway comprise about 60 figures distributed over three fields. The oldest figures have been dated to 4600 BEP and the earliest to about 2600 BEP. The figures were the first figure from a hunting culture that were discovered in Scandinavia.

Discovery and rediscovery

The rock carvings were first mentioned in 1799 in the travel notes of professor Martin Vahl, where he described a stag carved in the mountain at a farm in Balsfjord. Prof. Vahl was a botanist at Copenhagen University, and the first botanist to visit Northern Norway.

However, these notes remained forgotten until 1913, when employees at Copenhagen Botanic Museum went through the notes of Prof. Vahl. At that time archeologist had started to gain an interest in rock carvings, and the finding triggered Gustav Hallström to travel to Balsfjord to find the rock carving.

To find the carvings located somewhere along the 70 km long fjord Hallström exploited the knowledge that a professor traveling in the 18th century must have lived in one of the ten large farms that existed along Balsfjord. One of these farms was Tennes where the locals recognized Prof. Vahl’s drawing of the stag.

The locals led Hallström to "Bukkhammaren", where they found the stag and five other animal figures. A few hundred meters away at "Gråbergan" they found additional figures. At this time these were the northernmost rock carvings in the world (today rock carvings have been found further north such as the several thousands figures at Alta).

Later in 1938 at a meeting in the local knitting circle the priests wife showed books describing the rocks carvings above the priest’s farm. Tordis Larsen from the neighboring farm got inspired and shortly after found the field with most figures at Tennes on the Larsen farm. This field known as "Kirkely" had about 40 figures.

The rock carvings

There are about 60 figures distributed over three fields: "Bukkhammaren", "Gråbergan", and "Kirkely". The figures were carved in what was at the time of carving on the seashore, but today these are situated about 20 meters above the sea level.

The oldest figures are on "Bukkhammaren" and these have been dated to 4600 BEP. There are only six figures, five of them are of moose, which all face the same direction. The sixth figure is undetermined. The largest figure is 1.1m.

The 40 figures at "Kirkely" are from about 2700 BEP, and consists of both sea and land animals (a rare combination for rocks carvings in Northern Norway). There are also 2 figures of people in boats, and some unidentified figures. 13 of the figures are of porpoise, while 14 are of moose or reindeer. There is one snake-like figure, and one "skålgrop". The largest figure is a reindeer with a length of about 1.2m.

The 19 figures at "Gråbergan" are from about 2600 BEP, and show two people figures together with 17 figures of land animals. The size of the figures range from 1--20 cm. The animals seems to have been carved such that animals migrating between the seashore and mainland are more on the seaside, while animals in the mainland such as bear and moose are away from the sea.

The carvers

The carvings show that there has been people living at Tennes since the stone age. These people were probably hunters, that in the late stone age migrated between different living areas throughout the year. Tennes may already at that time have been a meeting place for the people living in the mainland (mountains), along the seashore, and on the islands.

How to get there

The rock carvings are accessible by a 2.5 km long well-marked track starting from Balsfjord church. The church is located in Tennes which is about 10 km from Storsteinnes (in Troms county in Norway). Road signs shows the direction.

The only transportation to Tennes is by car, and it is about a 30-minute drive from the E8-E6 intersection, and about 2 hours from Tromsø.


* The article was based on an article in: ‘’Fotefar mot Nord’’. Ottar Grepstad and Kirsti Mathilde Thorheim. Press. 2004. (Norwegian only).
* Additional information from, which cites:
**"Unknown title". Gutorm Gjessing. 1932
**"Unknown title". Povl Simonsen. 1958.
**"Fortidsminner nord for polarsirkelen". Povl Simonsen. Universitetesforlaget, Tromsø-Oslo-Bergen. 1970.

ee also

*Pre-historic art
*Rock carvings at Åsli
*List of rock carvings in Norway

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