Forgotten Stone Slab May Actually Be The Oldest Known Map in Europe

by akoloy

The markings are unfamiliar: carved contours that now solely trace at a misplaced panorama from way back. Nonetheless, a big, mysterious slab of stone not too long ago rediscovered in France seems prefer it would possibly simply be the oldest recognized map in Europe.


In a brand new research, researchers re-examined the Saint-Bélec slab – an intricately carved, partly damaged slab of stone first present in 1900, earlier than being put aside in a fortress and largely forgotten about for over 100 years.

Only now are trendy archaeologists reappraising the slab and studying its significance – particularly, that it may in reality symbolize essentially the most historical cartographical depiction of recognized land in Europe.

010 ancient map 4The Saint-Bélec slab. (D. Gliksman/Inrap)

“This is probably the oldest map of a territory that has been identified,” first creator of the research, Clément Nicolas from Bournemouth University within the UK, told the BBC.

“There are several such maps carved in stone all over the world. Generally, they are just interpretations. But this is the first time a map has depicted an area on a specific scale.”

Quite how the Saint-Bélec slab made its means into the current day is not totally understood, nevertheless it’s undoubtedly been an odd journey.

In more moderen instances, the stone was present in 1900 by the French prehistorian Paul du Chatellier, who excavated the engraved slab from an historical burial mound within the city of Leuhan within the Brittany area of north-western France.

As for what the carvings on the just about 4-meter-long (13 ft) slab have been meant to indicate, du Chatellier wasn’t certain. He noticed on the time that some students interpreted the markings as a shapeless human illustration, or maybe an image of a beast – but in addition prompt the meanings would possibly solely be uncovered in future analysis.

010 ancient map 4Stored within the cellar of a fortress. (P. Stephan, Clément Nicolas, Yvan Pailler)

“Let us not let ourselves be led astray by fantasy, leaving it to a Champollion, who will maybe discover himself in the future, to learn it to us,” du Chatellier wrote.

Despite the grand promise, du Chatellier reserved the slab in his non-public assortment, earlier than it was offered by his youngsters to the French Museum of National Archaeology, which saved it in isolation for a number of many years within the area of interest of a fortress moat.


It was 2014 when the largely forgotten Saint-Bélec slab was lastly rediscovered once more, present in a cellar of the fortress. A couple of years later, Nicolas and his worldwide crew set about conducting the primary trendy investigation of the slab, utilizing high-resolution 3D surveying strategies to report and look at the morphology and chronology of the stonework.

One of the slab’s nice mysteries is what a map like this was doing within the Saint-Bélec burial mound within the first place. The tomb in query is believed so far again to the tip of the early Bronze Age (about 1900–1640 BCE), however the slab itself is probably going older, maybe being carved earlier within the early Bronze Age, presumably many years or centuries earlier than, the researchers suppose.

If they’re proper, it means this historical map slab was being reused for some cause as a part of the burial course of, forming one of many partitions of the stone barrow, with the engraved facet dealing with inward to the tomb, that means the markings weren’t uncovered to the weather for 1000’s of years, which helps to elucidate why they continue to be comparatively unweathered to this present day.

According to the researchers, the map-like engravings and motifs carved on the floor of the slab present a tough three-dimensional (3D) match to the river area during which the traditional burial mound existed.

010 ancient map 4The Saint-Bélec slab. (D. Gliksman/Inrap)

“A key point is that the engravers seem to have modified the original surface relief of the slab to create the desired 3D-form that compares to the topography of the surrounding landscape,” the researchers write in their paper, noting that the Saint-Bélec barrow overlooks the valley of the mapped Odet River area.

“[We] confirm a good correspondence between the carvings and the topography, with similar results to ethnographic solicited maps. Such correlations give … an idea of the possible scale of the space represented: an area c. 30 km long and 21 km wide.”


What’s much less sure is what different motifs carved into the slab would possibly symbolize, nevertheless it’s doable they may replicate the placement of early Bronze Age settlements, different barrow websites, discipline programs, and tracks, the crew suggests.

If so, it may be that the map mirrored a form of organizational plan of land use and possession based on the political and financial rulers of the early tradition that carved this object.

“There was undoubtedly a justification for carving this work in stone … leaving a mark,” explains one of many crew, archeologist Yvan Pailler from the University of Western Brittany.

“Making a cartography like that … is often linked to the affirmation of a power, of an authority over a territory. This is the general context of achievement that occurs in the Early Bronze Age, at a time when we see the emergence of highly hierarchical societies.”

In such an interpretation, it is doable the slab was later solid into the grave as a subsequent rejection of the ability and property system of this ruling elite – to be buried for 1000’s of years, earlier than its enigmatic divisions would lastly talk the lay of the land as soon as extra.

The findings are reported in Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française.


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