Located in the far north of Norway near the Arctic Circle, the Alta Rock Carvings are an extensive and important collection of petroglyphs dating from 4200 to 500 BC. First discovered in 1967, the 5,000+ rock carvings were designated a World Heritage Site in 1985. According to UNESCO, the Alta petroglyphs are "the most important piece of evidence in favor of the existence of human activity in the confines of the Great North in the prehistoric period."
History of the Alta Rock Carvings
The rock art at Alta has been dated to about 4200 to 500 BC, incorporating four main phases of work. The carvings and paintings were made on the rocks along the fjord as the glaciers from the Ice Age receded; therefore the artworks found highest on the rocks are the oldest, while the petroglyphs closest to present sea level are the newest. There is a difference of about 26 meters between the two extremes.
The modern history of the Alta carvings began in 1967, when they were first discovered and studied. They were designated a World Heritage Site in 1985. Alta Museum opened in June 1991 and won the European Museum of the Year Award in 1993.
What to See at the Alta Rock Carvings
The petroglyphs (rock art) at Alta consist of over 5,000 paintings and carvings scattered over 45 sites. The main site, which is now the open-air Alta Museum, contains about 3,000 petroglyps. The paintings have been retouched in bright red paint by researchers, but are otherwise entirely original.
The main site of the petroglyphs are part of an open-air museum called Alta Museum, which also includes an excellent indoor exhibition covering both the rock art and the general prehistoric history of the region.
From the museum, visitors follow a well-marked path and boardwalk that leads down a gently sloping hill to the fjord then loops around the site. Along the path are 13 stopping points for viewing the rock art up close. A typical self-guided tour lasts about an hour; guided tours are available in summer.
The petroglyphs are highly stylized and depict a wide range of subjects, including: geometrical symbols; animals such as bears, moose, and reindeer; and human activities such as hunting, fishing, navigation, and rituals. Agricultural activities, with domesticated animals inside fences, appear among the newest petroglyphs (approaching 500 BC).
Alta has a local airport and is located on the E6, a major highway. You can take a long-distance bus to Alta Sentrum, from where it is 4.5km back along the E6 to the rock carvings. To shorten the walk, get off at the bus station at Alta Sentrum and take a local bus to Bossekop, from where it is a 2.5km walk. Another option is a taxi: call Alta Taxi at 78 43 53 53.
Quick Facts on the Alta Rock Carvings
|Names:||Alta Rock Art · Alta Rock Carvings · Helleristningene i Hjemmeluft|
|Categories:||petroglyph sites; World Heritage Sites|
|Dates:||c. 4200-500 BCE|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||69.946944° N, 23.187778° E|
|Phone:||+47 78 45 63 30|
|Hours:||Oct-Apr: Mon-Fri: 9-3, Sat-Sun: 11-4|
May & Sept: daily 9-6 (closed May 1 and 17)
Jun 1 - Aug 20: daily 8am-9pm
Aug 21-31: daily 8-6
|Lodging:||View hotels near the Alta Rock Carvings|
- Rock Art of Alta - UNESCO World Heritage List
- Alta - Rough Guide to Scandinavia
- Alta Museum - official website
- Rock carvings at Alta - Wikipedia
- Photos of the Alta Rock Carvings - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of the Alta Rock Carvings, Norway
Below is a location map and aerial view of the Alta Rock Carvings. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.