Europe's oldest map is a carved stone slab from the Bronze Age

(NCS) — A slab of stone, engraved with intricate traces and motifs courting to the Bronze Age, has been revealed to be Europe’s oldest map, researchers say.

Using high-resolution 3D surveys and photogrammetry, researchers re-examined the Saint-Bélec Slab — an engraved and partly damaged piece of stone that was found in 1900 however forgotten about for nearly a century.

Researchers from the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap), the UK’s Bournemouth University, the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the University of Western Brittany say the latest research of the stone has revealed it to be the oldest cartographic illustration of a identified territory in Europe.

Researchers noticed that the slab's topography resembled a valley, with lines representing a river network.

Researchers observed that the slab’s topography resembled a valley, with traces representing a river community.

From Bournemouth University

The slab, which boasts intricate carvings and scattered motifs, has had a busy life: unearthed from a burial mound in western Brittany, it is thought to have been reused in an historic burial towards the finish of the early Bronze Age (between 1900 and 1640 BCE), specialists say, the place it shaped a wall of a small, coffin-like field containing human stays. At the time of excavation, the 12.7-foot-long slab was already damaged and lacking its higher half.

In 1900, it was moved to a personal museum, and till the Nineties, it was saved in the National Museum of Archaeology in the fortress of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, in a area of interest in the fortress moat. In 2014, it was rediscovered in certainly one of the museum’s cellars.

Upon learning the rediscovered slab, researchers discovered the carvings resembled a map, with repeated motifs joined by traces.

They observed that its floor was intentionally 3D-shaped to signify a valley, with traces in the stone thought to depict a river community.

The crew observed similarities between the engravings and parts of the panorama of western Brittany, with the territory represented on the slab showing to indicate a area of about 19 miles by 13 miles, alongside the course of the Odet river.

Clément Nicolas, a postdoctoral researcher at Bournemouth University and first creator of the research, informed NCS that the discovery “highlights the cartographic knowledge of prehistoric societies.”

But there are nonetheless many unknowns, together with why the slab was damaged in the first place.

“The Saint-Bélec Slab depicts the territory of a strongly hierarchical political entity that tightly controlled a territory in the early Bronze Age, and breaking it may have indicated condemnation and deconsecration,” Nicolas mentioned.


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