Rock carving

Project: From Shapes to Action (SHACT) – The Narrative Turn in Prehistoric Image-Making in Northern Europe

The overall purpose of this project is to investigate what is required to render stories in pictorial form and to examine how the first pictorial stories were shaped on rock carvings in northern Europe around 5000 BCE.

Project information

Project manager
Peter Skoglund, Linnaeus University
Other project members
Anna Cabak Rédei, Lund University
Jan Magne Gjerde, Norsk institutt for kulturminneforskning
Tomas Persson, Lund University
Michael Ranta, Linnaeus University
Participating organizations
Linnaeus University, Lund University, Norsk institutt for kulturminneforskning
The Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet)

More about the project

In this three-year project, we shall investigate the emergence of prehistoric pictorial storytelling in northern Europe. Storytelling with pictures did hardly occur in image-making before c. 5,000 BCE. Art historians and archeologists have been interested in the realism of the cave paintings in southern Europe, seen as a starting point for the development of later art.

However, the earliest emergence of picture stories has been neglected. The first steps of combining individual images to display narrative scenes arise as early as around 5,000 BCE at different places in Europe. Clear examples can be found in northern Scandinavia, where rock carvings depict people, animals, and various activities in image sequences. Later, full-fledged forms of pictorial storytelling appeared in Mesopotamia and Egypt during the third millennium BCE. The ability to portray life experiences with pictorial storytelling enlarged human communication. What made this innovation possible and what was its socio-cultural relevance?

We will examine some of the earliest picture stories in northern Scandinavia, with a comparative perspective on equivalents in Portugal and Spain. Approaches from cognitive science, narratology, and semiotics will be applied to archaeological material. We have established an interdisciplinary research group from three universities/research institutes (Kalmar, Lund, Tromsø), having distinct, but mutually enriching research profiles.