Ships and Adzes in Scandinavian Rock Art

A Note on Shipbuilding in the Bronze Age

  • Peter Skoglund Linnaeus University, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Department of Cultural Sciences


The ship is the most prominent motif in south Scandinavian rock art. In relation to ships, different kinds of axe images also occur on many sites in eastern Sweden. However, many of these images display an S-shaped handle, which makes the traditional interpretation as an axe questionable. On the other hand, a characteristic of many adzes is their bent, or even S-shaped, handle. This strongly indicates that motifs with S-shaped handles represent adzes and not axes. The most important tool in the traditional shipwright’s toolset is the adze. In this paper it will be argued that notions about the shipbuilding process influenced the occurrence and arrangement of these motifs on the panels.