To mark Sámi National Day (February 6) here are some pictures of the rock carvings at Jiepmaluokta, the Sámi name, which means Bay of Seals, for the place near Alta, north west Norway. The images (recently dyed with harmless red pigment to make them easier to see) were probably produced by stone age and early metal age people whose successors went on to identify themselves with the Sámi. Some of the images are almost identical to symbols found on Sámi artefacts in the period immediately before Christianisation.
I visited Jiepmaluokta the day after The Long Spring journeys came to an end, and saw seven thousand year-old images of reindeer husbandry, the earliest known images documenting the reindeer herding that is the defining tradition of the modern Sámi. A herd of wild reindeer is being corralled: there are thirty inside the fence, where a man wields a stick to keep them under control. Six more are at the entrance to the palisade, walking in, and thirty others are browsing freely, scattered throughout the landscape. Four bears, a male, a female and two cubs, have walked across the scene from their den, leaving their footprints in the snow. On the far side of a miniature mountain, seven moose roam. In the distance, eight people form a line, I imagine them hollering to drive the reindeer towards the corral; nearby, others wield clubs and sticks to keep the bears from the deer.
Exactly when these first images were made is a matter of debate: six thousand years ago based on the rate of isostatic rebound (land rising after being released from the downward pressure of a mile-thick ice-cap during the Ice Age), but recent thinking suggests they may be a thousand years older. There were times when the ice-melt caused the sea level to rise so much that it cancelled out the land-rise and the coastline may have changed little for more than a thousand years. At other times, relative land-rise was so rapid it would be noticed during a person’s lifetime.
Laurence Rose is a conservationist, writer and composer. He has worked for the RSPB since 1983.