A Norse Vessel Petroglyph
Clifford C. Richey
August !"#
$t may %e helpful to refer to the %ackground paper:
when reading this paper. $t e+plains the use of ,orm- $magery- .esture )igns-
allusion. and position among other compositional rules used in the creation of
many ancient compositions.
Figure 12. Rock-art site Tanum 356 with scenes
of social inequality aboar the shi!s an of acro-
bats "um!ing abo#e the shi!s.
$o!yright% Tanums &'llristnings (useum
2))6. *ource% *weish Rock +rt Research
/ach part of the $magery- color coded a%ove- represents a word or a phrase in depicted sign language.
0his was a very ancient gesture system used %y many cultures for thousands of years to communicate
with each other for trade purposes among others. At some point in time the signs were transposed to a
more tangi%le system that could %e used to transcri%e messages in a more permanent manner.
0he 1ody- of the Vessel- is composed of a 2green3 *ong Rectangular- a stretche-out-!lace sign. 0his
sign is positioned %elow the signs for the ship4s crew. 0he ,igures that represent the crew were created
from a Vertical'Rectangle- #ertical-!lace signs. 0he overall ,orm of these signs were shaped in the
,llustration 1% The -reat *er!ent *hi!. The one that carries the
13 male-s!irits.
,orm of a Phallus- indicating a male or a man. 0he .lans Penis ,orm represented a male-spirit. 0he
2yellow3 Circles were %oth a locational sign and the Num%er one 2%ased on the ,orm of the gesture
signer4s finger tips3. 0he Count is thirteen – the thirteen male spirits.
The wide, stretched out, place below was o%viously the underworld and the )hip was a metaphor for
the 2%lue'green3 .reat )erpent %elow in the watery underworld. Actually the )erpent ,orm and
$magery was the associational depiction for a stream or current of water. $t was the )erpent that carried
the spirits of the deceased through the underworld.
$n gesture signing the *eft and Right sides of the signer represented the east and the west. 0his
e+plains the reason for the )hip4s dou%le headed )erpent. 0he *arge 5orned ,igure on the *eft and
Right is a great leader 2%ased on the o%servation of male animals such as the 1ull who achieved their
superior position in the herd through their strength3. 0he meaning is one of a strong leader. 0hus- the
strong leader in the east and the west. 0he leader was counted as one of the crew as determined %y his
Phallus %eing positioned %etween the 2yellow3 Circle- his location- the one and the Phallic ,orm 2the
male, the, green, vertical-place, the male, purple, spirit below). 0he 6V7 shaped .lans Penis of the
,igure represents an opening and is connected to the 2green3 vertical-place sign of the ,igure4s 1ody.
0he ,orm of the shaft of the Phallus is Curved indicating- an arising. Positionally- on the side of the
1ody. 0he 2tan3 *egs and ,eet 2the long, journeys- positionally- below- in the west, waiting 2the- pink-
0ail like appendage3 positionally- on the side.
0he 2pink3 Neck or 0hroat of the ,igure alludes to a connecting tunnel to the main 1ody. 0he 5ead of
the ,igure is the 2yellow3 Circular- his location, the one sign. 0he 5orned 5ead- the leader, the one
who arises in the east and west. 0he ,igure4s Arms represent a warrior. The Form of the Elbow 2an
allusion to the one that opens and closes) is 6V7 shaped indicating a Relatively *arge- great opening.
$n the over all ,igure imagery the ,igure appears to %e holding a 5ammer which may relate this
$magery to 0hor. 0he 5ammer is also in the ,orm of a 8ushroom meaning- the one that arises from
the earth. 0he *eft Arm appears to %e holding an /gg the one who will be born in the east). 0he Arm
is in the ,orm of the arising sign.

,llustration 2% $olor $oe
0he signs in $llustration 9 are positioned a%ove the )hip. 0he 0hree *egs and ,eet are significant as the
count is 0hree as a form of shorthand meaning- many. 0he )tance for the *egs and ,eet is one of
departing. 0he *egs- indicate- ,orm- on the side, and long- 0he ,eet as ,orm are 5ori:ontal Rectangles
indicating- hori!ontal-places. As ,eet they represent- walks or journeys. 0hus the many long journeys,
on the side 2of the earth3 the places. 0his depiction also shows how the *egs and ,eet need not %e
connected to a 1ody as they are independent words and phrases.
The many,
0he *eg and ,oot on the *eft 2the east3 is positioned below a 2red3 0riangle that indicates the Female-
earth. 0he 0riangle was %ased on the human female genital area4s shape. The Female-earth, below
#er, on the side, the long, journey, the place.
The Female-earth,
$elow #er,
%n the side,
The long journey,
The hori!ontal-place.
A%ove the *eg of the ,igure 2*eft3 is a 2green3 Vertical Rectangle- a vertical-place sign. 0o the Right is
a ;uarter Circle indicating an, on the side sign. $elow, are the long, journeys, on the side, places.
& vertical-place,
%n the side,
The long,
& hori!ontal-place.
0he )tance of the *arge Curved ,igure is one of leaning over bac(wards and falling. The )reat one,
his falling over bac(wards.
0he 1ody of the ,igure is a relatively *arge 2light'%lue3 6&7 shaped turning sign. The great turning
,llustration 3% The /ne
Turning +bo#e
of the body. 0he )houlder of the ,igure has the ,orm of the sign for a 2)traight *ine- the surface3
while the Arm 2the warrior3 and 5and 2the steward of the *un3 ,orm the signs for- the edges. 0he
gesture sign for a cliff or edge is a ,orty five degree angle. $n this case there is a )traight *ine
connecting the two signs making this a surface %etween two edges. Apparently there is only one 5and
alluded to 2there is no sign at the position of whre the hand on the Right would %e normally3 and it is
on the *eft or eastern side. 0he 2pink3 Neck or 0hroat of the ,igure alludes to a tu%e or tunnel. 0he
2yellow3 5ead of the ,igure indicates- the one, his location- positionally- below. 0he Arm on the Right-
the west is without a hand is a )evered ,inger ,orm used to point a direction, here+below.
The great one,
Falling bac(wards,
#is great turning,
The edges,
2of the earth3
The one, his location,
The warrior,
The *teward of the *un,
,n the east,
The one,
#is location,
The tunnel,
The west.
,irst we need to look at the overall ,orm of the )erpent.. 0he *arge ,orm of a 5orned 2a leader or
chieftain3 )erpent on the *eft, the great, stream, in the east, Ne+t we %reak down the parts of the
)erpent into it depicted signs. )tarting at the 0ail the ,orm is of a 2tan3 *eg and ,oot- the long journey-
,llustration 0%
*er!ent on the 1eft
,llustration 6% $olor
,llustration 5% 1ate 2ron3e
+ge 4essel
1udapest 5istory 8useum
positionally- --below, on the side. Ne+t we see the 2%lue3 ,orm of a *arge 2indicating- the one- and
greatness3 )evered ,inger- pointing a direction, here, the great one, arising. 0he 5ead or ,ace of the
)erpent- her appearance 2the gender is female due to the )erpent %eing within the earth3- has the
)tance of loo(ing eastward.
As an aside we will look- %riefly- at an earthen 2clay3 Vessel from the *ate 1ron:e Age. $t is located at
the 1udapest 5istory 8useum. <e can compare the signs that composed this Vessel with those found
in the )erpent Vessel. 0he 1owl of the Vessel is e=uivalent to the Circular 2white with a %lack center3
hole sign of the )erpent4s 5ead and /ye. 0he 2green3 Neck of the 1owl is in the ,orm of a hori!ontal-
place sign. Across the place sign are Rightward )lanting *ines that indicate- stopped. Positionally
below the place sign is a ;uarter Circle that means- the underside or the underworld. 1eneath this is
the ,orm of a 2tan3 ,oot that indicates a >ourney- positionally- below. ?n the Right or western side of
the ,oot- which is actually a %oot- are 2light'%lue3 0hree *ines that indicate an unseen pathway whose
,orm is in the shape of a -ertical-place sign. $n many ancient cultures a Vessel indicated a container
2of water and its associated spirits3 that was- metaphorically- linked to the /arth'female. 0he Norse
)hip may have %een conceptuali:ed in a similar manner as a container of men5s s!irits. 0he )hip and
the 1ron:e Age &rn 2used as an &rn for the cremation ashes of the deceased and as a 1urial Vessel3
%oth provide the needed 1ody part areas for positional points of reference and for areas that can %e
alluded to for additional meaning.
The .arge #orned *erpent,
The great, female, stream,
The chieftain,
The main one,
,n the east,
The long-journey,
%n the side,
The great one,
The great journey,
0he 5ead or ,ace 2her appearance3 of the )erpent was created from the 2%lack and white3 Circular
sign with a (ark Center that means- a hole. 0he 5orns on the 5ead indicate a leaer %ut are in the
,orm of the 6V7 shaped sign for, an opening. 0he )nout of the )erpent indicates %y allusion- the
8outh and su%se=uently- a source of water. 0he *eg and ,oot- positionally- below, the hole means- a
long, journey.
The *erpent, the stream,
#er Face, her appearance,
The opening,
%n the side,
The water source,
below it,
The long journey,
%n the side.
0he )tance of the *arge 2great3 5orned 2 a chieftain or leader3 ,igure is one of facing *eft- eastward
and holding a @nife 2 a /ay of the *un sign- a title3 high over his 5ead 2o#erhea3.
0he 2tan3 *egs and ,eet are in the )tance for arrival that makes them appear as %ackwards in relation
to the ,igure4s 1ody. 0he *egs are in the ,orm of the side sign. At the top of the *egs is a 2green3
5ori:ontal Rectangle or hori!ontal-place sign. 0he trunk of the 1ody is a 2yellow3 relatively *arge
Circle that indicates- his location, the great one. 0his is positioned as- on the side, of a 2light'green3
Vertical Rectangle- a vertical-place 2a place having height and depth3. 0he ,igure4s Phallus- indicating
a man- is composed of a Rightward *eaning *ine its )tance indicating- waiting. 0he .lans Penis
alludes to the position of the male-spirit sign. $ts actual ,orm is that of a small 2light'tan3 )evered
,inger point the direction- here, at the 2light'%lue3 the great arising sign-.
The great leader,
Facing eastward,
#is arrival,
#is 'ourneys,
%n the sides,
The hori!ontal-place,
#id location, the great one,
on the side,
The vertical-place,
The man,
#is great arising.
,llustration 6%
The 1eaer. The
-reat /ne
,llustration 7%
A the upper surface of the 2yellow3 Circle indicating- the one his location, 0he ,orm %ecomes one a
*ong 2high3 )temmed 8ushroom. 0his metaphorical ,orm presents the phrase- the one who arises
from the earth. 0he )tem is in the ,orm of the arising sign. 0he 8ushroom Cap is in the form of the
covered sign. 0he upper portion of the Cap indicates the 1ow shaped sign for the s(y. 0he lower *ines
are the Curved *ines for ascending in the east and the west. 0he surrounding darkness of the original
dark patina of the rock may have indicated- surroune in arkness.
The one who arises from the earth,
#igh above it,
The ark s(y,
,n the east and the west.
0he Arm on the Right 2the warrior3 has a 2yellow3 Circle- the location, the one- that alludes to a 5and.
0he 5and of the )un- a steward of the *un3- 0he 2yellow3 Circle indicating- the one his location. 0he
Arm is in the ,orm of the 6&7 shaped sign for turning'movement. 0he *ower part of the 6&7 is a
2green3 Right *eaning Rectangular- waiting-place sign. ?f course this Arm and 5and is on the Right
indicating- the west.
The warrior, the steward of the *un,
#is location, the one,
#is waiting-place,
#is turning,
The west.
,inally- we come to the ,igures 5ead. 0he 2yellow3 Circle that composes and alludes to his 5ead or
,ace- his appearance- his location, the one has a 2pink3 Neck or 0hroat alluding to a tu%e or
connecting tunnel to the 1ody %elow. 0he 2light'%lue3 5orns on the 5ead are in the ,orm of arising
signs 2positionally- on the sides3 on the Right and left- in the east and west.
#is appearance,
#is, location, the one,
The connecting tunnel,
,llustration 8%
The 1eaer. The
-reat /ne
%n the sides,
#e arises,
,n the east and west.
0o the right of the Chieftain or leader ,igure is a series of Phallic ,orms that indicates males or men
that represents- the ship1s crew. 0he 2yellow3 Circle a%ove each Phallus means- the one, his location.
0he Phallus can %e further divided into the ,orms for a 2green3 Vertical'Rectangle- a vertical-place and
the ,orm of the 2light'%lue3 .lans Penis which serves as the sign for a male-spirit. 0he )tance of the
spirit sign is one of heading upwards. 0he count of the Crew num%ers thirteen, if one includes the
Their locations, the ones,
The Twelve men,
Their .eader
The vertical-places
The male-spirits,
#eading upwards.
,llustration 1)% The
,llustration 11% The
1eaer on the Right
,llustration 12% /riginal
0he $mage of the *eader on the Right- in the west is smaller than the one on the *eft- in the east. 0he
significance of this difference is not clear. $t may imply the distance %etween the two events- the one in
the east- 2closer3 and the one in the far west 2more distant3.
The .eader,
,n the distant-
0he )tance of the 2tan3 *egs and ,eet is the sign for departing, the *egs- ,eet- the long journeys,
positional, below. $t may %e worth mentioning- at this point- that many ancient cosmologies considered
the east of the rising )un as a related to youth- light and re%irth while the west was considered as
related to old age- darkness and death
. 0here is also a )evered ,inger pointing a direction- here- on the
Right- the west, positionally, on the side. 0he )tance- the rightward leaning angle- indicates- waiting.
2?n his3
.ong journeys
The east,
%n the side,
the west.
%n the side.
0he 1ody- 0he )tomach- 0he relatively *arge 2yellow3 Circle meaning- the great one. 0he 2green3
Chest- a 5ori:ontal Rectangle or hori!ontal-place sign. 0he 2pink3 Neck or 0hroat indicating- a
connecting tunnel, to the 2yellow3 5ead which is the Circle meaning- his location, the one. 0he 5orns
2the leader3 of the 5ead which are in the ,orm of the arising *eft and Right- in the east and the west
The great one
The connecting tunnel,
#is location, the one,
The east and the west.
0he Arm 2the warrior3 and 5and 2the steward of the *un, a )un'priest3 on the *eft 2the east3 holds a
@nife 2 a ray of the *un3. 0he overall ,orm of which is a 8ushroom- the one who arises from the
"Richards- C 2"AAB3 4*ife is not that simple: architecture and cosmology in the 1alinese house4- in 0
(arvill C D 0homas 2eds.3- 9eolithic &ouses in 9orthwest :uro!e an 2eyon- "E9'F#. ?+ford:
?+%ow. 6.../ast and <est- are added from 5indu %eliefsG the /ast %eing associated with re%irth and
sunrise- whilst the <est is linked with death and the sunset.7
earth. 0his can %e further %roken down into 0he )tem 2a vertical-place3 positionally- below- the
;uarter Circle 2the upper-side or the upper-world3. 0he ,orm of the Arm is in the shape of the sign for
arising. 0he Arm 2the warrior3 0he 5and 2alluded to %y its position at the end of the Arm indicates the
5and of the )un- the steward of the *un. 0he ,orm of the o%>ect at the normal position for the 5and is
unclear. $t may %e an /gg indicating- the one who will be born. <e will- tentatively- accept this
interpretation in th interest of symmetry.
,n the east,
The warrior,
The steward of the *un,
The one who arises from the earth.
& vertical place
The upper world.
,n the west,
The warrior,
The steward of the *un,
The one who will be born.
,llustration 13% The
1eaer on the Right
,llustration 10% The
1eaer on the Right
$t was mentioned earlier in this paper that the 5orned leader

in the west was construed as %eing one of
the )hip4s Crew due to his male mem%er having %een positioned %etween the Num%er one, his
location, sign and the Phallus- man or male- sign. 0he Phallus is a compound of a )evered ,inger
pointing a direction- here. pointing to the sign for a man- the vertical-place of the male-spirit. 0he
shaft of the Phallus is the Curved sign for arising, on the side.
The one,
#is location,
The man,
The male-spirit,
#eading upward,
The surface,
The vertical-place.
$n the a%ove illustration we can see the *arge )erpent, the great stream with its 0ail arising in the east
20he 0ail possi%ly %eing a form of past tense3 and its 0hroat 2tunnel sign3 arising in the west. 0he
2light'green3 )erpent4s 5ead is the sign for an entrance, a portal, on the surface 2the *intel acting as
the )traight *ine for the surface3. 0he 1road 2green3 5ori:ontal Rectangle- a wide-place is-
positionally- below, and represents the underworld.
The )reat *erpent, the great stream,
The #orned one, The leader,
2perhaps meaning the chief or main stream3
$t is unlikely that such figures actually wore 5orns in %attle or in most activities. 0hey were a sign of authority used on
special- formal- occasions. $n depicted sign language the 5orns held a linguistic value. 0he 5orns were not fre=uently
worn any more than a @ing would walk around with a crown on his head all the time.
,llustration 15% $olor $oe
,n the Throat,
,n the connecting tunnel,
The *urface "oorway, the portal at the surface.
0he 2yellow3 1ase of the )hip has the 2yellow3 5ook sign that indicates- ta(en-downward followed %y
a 2tan3 ,oot- a journey. Ne+t another 5ook 2ta(en down- positionally- below- with a 2yellow3 Circular-
the one, his location sign at the %eginning of the 5ook.
Ta(en downward,
& journey,
#is location, the one.
0his ,igure turning in the sky a%ove the )hip was a metaphor referring to -enus, the warrior star. 0his
very ancient metaphorical association of warriors with Venus was a common cosmological statement. $t
was paraphrased in a variety of ways over the centuries. Paraphrasing in depicted sign language can
produce startling different resultant imagery and without a knowledge of sign language one might think
the depictions were a%out entirely different su%>ects.
As interpreted a%ove- the petroglyph is not a%out an actual event %ut rather it is a cosmological
message. 0he message4s details tell us that the leader and his crew are spirits and the Vessel that carries
them is a )erpent- stream of water- that takes the spirits up and down through portals 2openings or holes
in the earth4s surface3 in the east and west. $t would seem that the leader is portrayed as Venus in his
afterlife. 0here is a possi%ility that the thirteen spirits may represented the leader and crew of a ship that
never returned to its home port.

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