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The Rock carvings of Alta (Helleristningene) are located in and around the municipality of Alta. Since the first carvings were discovered in 1973, more than 6000 carvings have been found on several sites around Alta. The largest locality, at Jiepmaluokta about 5 kilometres from Alta, contains thousands of individual carvings and has been turned into an open-air museum. The site, along with the sites Storsteinen, Kåfjord, Amtmannsnes and Transfarelv, was placed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites on 3 December 1985.

The carvings show a wide variety of imagery and religious symbolism. There are however some main motifs that are found throughout all the different periods, like the reindeer. Rock carvings especially from the earliest period show great similarity with carvings from northwestern Russia, indicating contact between and maybe parallel development of cultures over a wide area of Europe´s extreme North.

Alta´s rock carvings were probably created using quartzite chisels that were probably driven by hammers made from some harder rocks; probable examples of chisels have been found throughout the area and are on display in Alta Museum. The technique of using rock chisels seems to have been continued even after metal tools came into use in the area.

A system of wooden walkways totaling about 3 kilometres was constructed in the Jiepmaluokta area during the second half of the 1980s, and Alta´s museum was moved from its previous location in the town centre to the site of the rock carvings in 1991. Although several other sites around Alta are known and new carvings are constantly discovered, only the Hjemmeluft locality is part of the official tour of the museum.

Most rocks around Alta are overgrown with a thick growth of moss and lichen; once carvings have been discovered, these plants are carefully removed and the rock is cleaned to expose the full extent of the carvings. The carvings are then documented using different techniques, most often the combination of quartz powder painted into the carvings which are then photographed and digitally treated.

World Heritage Rock Art Centre - Alta Museum features a display of objects found in the area thought to be related to the culture that created the carvings, a photographic documentation of the carvings, and displays on Sami culture, the phenomenon of Aurora Borealis and the area´s history of slate mining. The museum received the European Museum of the Year Award in 1993.


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