Travel Tip: The Rock Art of Alta (Ancient Rock Carving in Alta)

The prehistoric rock carvings in Alta is the largest collection of rock carvings in Northern Europe, and are considered a very important piece of Norwegian history. They have a spot in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list, and are one of the most interesting places to visit in all of Northern Norway.

If you choose to visit Alta, then you absolutely should make a stop at the ancient rock carvings, or The Rock Art of Alta as it is called. They are outside Alta Museum just a few kilometers away from the main city, and have their own exhibition where you can learn all about the carvings.

Rock art of Alta
Rock art of Alta. Photo by Hans A. Rosbach / CC BY-SA 3.0.

What makes the Rock Art of Alta worth a visit

The Rock Art of Alta is worth a visit because it’s something really special. The carvings were made as much as 7,000 years ago, and the carvings are all between 7,000 and 2,000 years old. It’s a bit difficult to tell exactly when each carving was made, but it’s believed that they were gradually made over a long time period.

The carvings show some of the methods the ancient people of Northern Norway used to hunt reindeer and other animals, and have been very important for historians to understand how the ancient people hunted in these regions. Some of the amazing pieces showcase the use of fall pits to herd wild reindeer for hunting.

There are a total of 4 different sites with rock carvings on them, but only a single one is open to the public. The public one is called Hjemmeluft, and we’ll get back to that one in the next section.

The other three sites are closed to the public due to fear of vandalism and erosion. Only scientists are allowed to visit them to research the carvings. There are a total of over 100 different fields on these 4 sites, and over 6,000 different rock carvings in total.

The Rock Art of Alta
The Rock Art of Alta. Photo by Karin Tansem / CC BY-SA 4.0.

The Rock Art Museum exhibition at Hjemmeluft

The Rock Art Museum exhibition is part of Alta Museum, and teaches you pretty much everything you need to know about the rock carvings. The permanent exhibition indoor is a great place to start, and when you have finished this one, head outside to see the rock carvings for yourself.

Alta Museum also hosts other exhibitions that showcase Alta’s natural and cultural history.

The photo below shows the main rock carvings outside Alta Museum. You can clearly see the rock carvings in red. You might wonder why they are red, and the answer is that this was common to do in the 70s.

The red paint make the rock carvings a lot more visible, but the downside is that this ruins the authenticity of them. New rock carvings are not painted any longer, but the ones in Alta are still red. There are also some unpainted rock carvings at the museum location, so you can experience both types.

PS. the rock carving collection is huge, so expect to spend at least an hour or two if you want to really experience all of it!

The Rock Art of Alta
Rock art of Alta. Photo by Hans A. Rosbach / CC BY-SA 3.0.

What the rock carvings in Alta can tell us

There are over 6,000 different parts of the rock carvings of Alta, and they are important in telling us how people used to live in the stone ages. Most of the carvings show how people hunted reindeer by using fall pits, but plenty of the carvings also show other animals like the brown bear.

The huge amount of rock carvings is also indication that Alta was a popular place back in the stones ages, and it seems likely that it was used as a place to have religious meetings and ceremonies. Researchers believe that the heavy usage of bears in the carvings indicated that these were part of a religious ritual.

How to get to the ancient rock carvings in Alta

The Rock Art of Alta with its open-to-public exhibition at Alta Museum in Hjemmeluft can be reached by either car, taxi or public transportation.

The museum and rock carving collection is about 4 kilometers away from the city center along the E6 route, and there are buses that goes between the museum and the city center during the day.

You can also easily drive there yourself if you got a car. Just head south along E6 for 5 minutes until you see the sign towards Alta Museum.

You can also get to the museum by walking or riding a bike if you feel like using your own legs for transportation.

Alta city center
Alta city center. Photo published with permission.

When to visit the Rock Art of Alta

You can obviously only see the rock carvings if you visit when there’s no snow, which is typically between May and October for Alta. This means that it’s a rather short season, and to make matters worse, visiting in either May or October can be considered risky.

This means that the best time to visit the rock carvings of Alta is between June and September, so right in the middle of summer.

The indoor exhibition is open all year round, so you can still get a taste of it during the winter season, but it’s far from as magical as seeing the carvings with your own eyes. However, I would still advise you to stop by Alta Museum for the indoor exhibitions if you visit outside of summer season, since the museum itself is well worth a stop.

The price of entry for seeing the rock carvings at Alta Museum

The price of admission to Alta Museum and the rock carving exhibition is 135 NOK for adults in the summer, and 90 NOK in the winter. Children have to pay 45 NOK in summer or 30 NOK in winter, so it’s fairly cheap to visit.

In addition, you can rent equipment to partake in the audio-guide for 35 NOK per person during summer, or 25 NOK during winter season. This is a good strategy if you’re interested in learning about the rock carvings, since this will explain what the rock carvings are actually telling us.

It’s also possible to get a 45 minute guided tour of the rock carvings, but at the steep price is 700 NOK. So this is best served for bigger groups or people that are very interested in the topic.

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