The Republic of Karelia

'The Stone Chronicle' of the White Sea Region

The petroglyphs of the White Sea are considered world-famous masterpieces of prehistoric rock-carving art

14.03.2022// The article below tells about the origin of the White Sea petroglyphs. We recommend reading it to make your trip even more interesting and exciting.

History of Discovery

These unique rock carvings were discovered by archaeologists at the beginning of the last century on the outskirts of the town of Belomorsk, on the islands of the Vyg River. The carvings were found to have been created in the 6th–3rd millennium B.C., which makes them some of the oldest petroglyphs in Northern Europe.

It was in Karelia that the oldest image of a skier in Europe was created. Overall, ancient artists had created over two thousand images etched into the rocks.

They depict the full scope of activities our ancestors engaged in, as well as their values and world views.

The White Sea petroglyphs comprise several groups of images discovered at different times. The first ones were found in 1926, as ethnographer Alexander Linevsky ran into some 300 carvings on a rock at the northern tip of Shoyruksha Island.

These petroglyphs, mainly dedicated to bear, elk, and seal hunting, are considered to be the oldest in Karelia.

Among them, a chain of footprints leading to a large human-like figure surrounded by other outlines stands out immediately. Linevsky called it the Imp, and dubbed the entire suite of carvings 'Imp's traces.'

The Imp, a whole metre tall, stands on one leg, his left hand raised and one eye closed. This is a classic pose for a shaman; it was believed to be the proper way to observe the world of the living with one eye and the world of spirits with the other. The chain of footprints leading to it is the entrance to the world of unknown powers. Ten years later, in 1936, another compact group of images called Zalavruga was discovered. These days, it is the largest cluster of White Sea petroglyphs and a hit among tourists.

The most spectacular of the carvings are life-size and depict deer hunting.

In 1963, archaeologists found a complex of petroglyphs under the soil; it went on to be called New Zalavruga.

These 26 suites of carvings were created later than the others and reflect a shift in the creators’ mindset.

Here, a human comes to the fore, with the previously dominant image of a hunted beast giving way.

Interesting petroglyph suites were also found on Erpin Pudas Island, one of the highest on the Vyg River. In 2006, another group of petroglyphs, Zolotets I, was found in the lower reaches of the Vyg River, comprising about 50 figures. In September 2019, an archaeological expedition of the Petrozavodsk University discovered a column of three swan figures near 'Imp’s traces.'

Not Only Petroglyphs

The White Sea Petroglyphs Archaeological Complex comprises not only rock carvings but also over 30 prehistoric man sites dating back to the 3rd–2nd millenniums B.C.

The White Sea Petroglyphs Museum (Belomorsk, 5A Oktyabrskaya St.) offers 1.5–2-hour guided tours for tourists.

How to Get There

Zalavruga, the largest and most popular cluster of White Sea petroglyphs, is located 35 km from the R21 Kola highway and 6 km from downtown Belomorsk.

After passing the village of Sosnovets and the Vygostrovskaya hydroelectric power plant, take a left turn. Upon arriving at an organised car park, you will have to walk about two kilometres along a forest road to find the petroglyphs. If you opt for public transport, you can first take the train to Belomorsk and then buy a ticket for a shuttle bus that goes to Zalavruga.

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