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The rock carvings at the Alta Museum are one of the iconic historical attractions for the city.  For the first time in five years since living in Alta we have got around to visiting the museum to see them.  When you get used to living with Stone, Bronze and Iron Age human marvels just three minutes drive away, complacency can be a monster.

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I have only ever known Alta with these rock carvings, making the city that more special, but the carvings are only a recent discovery.  (Without giving too much away…), the first rock carving to be discovered in Alta in the early 1950s was two feet underground.  A farmer was ploughing his field and unearthed it.  In 1977 boys playing on the west shores of Alta fjord stumbled upon a rock carving ‘field’ when pulling up moss from off the rocks.  Since then, a wide collection of carvings have been discovered in the same area from 6000 to 2000 years old and now the site is World Heritage listed.

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Alta has the largest collection of rock carvings in Northern Europe, at least; 6000 have been discovered.  There are lots of carvings scattered all over the smooth rocks along the water.  Many different designs, with different stories, some displaying rituals and worship scenes.

The museum has adopted one scene for its logo: six men in a boat (below).  Four are sitting down and are represented by single lines, one man has a bow and arrow and the other man is holding a tool or a net for fishing.  It has been suggested that the symbol is part of a ritual, perhaps to the gods for a good hunt.  There are many other fascinating stories and ideas about the carvings and to learn about them you are just going to have to come to Alta and discover them yourself! (Wink wink)

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The red paint used resembles the original ochre paint originally found on some carvings, which doesn’t effect the rocks but allows visitors to see the artwork better.  Along the route, newly discovered carvings are unpainted.  This is because they are still being studied in their natural form.  There is a great concern for the longevity for the carvings.  Because the moss has been removed from the rocks, the carvings are exposed to the elements.  Rocks are beginning to crack and shards of rock are starting to slide away.  The museum is half considering allowing moss to grow back over some of the carvings to help preserve them.

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Because the carvings are in an urban area, which was built up 300 years before the carvings were discovered, a few accidents have occurred, such as a telecommunications company inserting a mast for a power line into a rock without removing moss first to check what was underneath.  (Below)

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In between the rock carvings are sites where Stone Age houses used to be.  Many artifacts have been dug up from around the area including cutting tools and weaponry.

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Seeing the rock carvings was great for our family as we got to talk about how precious they are with the kids, we learnt about the people who made them, about the stories they made, and we made up a few of our own, however, the icing on the cake for me was the wonderful nature that surrounded the open air museum.

A boardwalk has been built around the rocks for easy access.  I must say, the museum was very smart with the placement of the walk around the carvings and along the fjord.  Just out of school in Australia, I was a trainee bush ranger and helped build walks in Mount Tamborine, Australia.  There are two main purposes of walks: 1. conservation – protecting the land from ‘footprints’, and 2. at every turn, (and there must be turns to keep the walk interesting), the walker should be presented with a new view that stops them and makes them ‘awe’.  The museum has accomplished these two goals perfectly.

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The lovely boardwalk winds around the area, showing off the natural habitat…

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…it takes you over a bridge and through the rocks…

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…between the fruiting Rowan trees…

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…past the grass roof fire place and BBQ area…

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…along the beach and up to the next sea side hill…

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…through the flower pastures already browning in the autumn sun…

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…all backlit from the southern sky…

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…through the fairyland of colour with berry plants and coastal moss…

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…past the old barn and into the open…

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…to a rest stop overlooking the Alta fjord…

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…and a coastal view for the way back.

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We chose late Autumn to walk through the carvings but summer, with the blooming flowers, would also be ideal.  In winter and spring, the site is covered in a thick layer of snow and therefore the carvings cannot be seen.  The Alta museum also has an inside display of historical findings and stories related to the area including displays on Sami culture and the war.  It has a small art gallery, a cafeteria and a souvenir store.

There is an entry fee (under kr90 for adults, which is exceptionally cheap for Norway) and the price depends on what time of year you visit, but children under seven are free.  You get two brochures about the museum and the carvings.  You can also select an audio tour which costs a little extra.  There is wheelchair access and the board walk has no stairs, though there is a steep climb on the way back to the museum building.  The museum is on the E6 and can’t be missed – it is the first thing you find coming into Alta from the south.

www.alta.museum.no 

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