Europe's oldest 3D map said to be Bronze Age stone slab

Artefact rediscovered in France believed to date back to 1900BC

The Saint-Belec Slab is thought to depict the River Odet valley. Inrap
The Saint-Belec Slab is thought to depict the River Odet valley. Inrap

A Bronze Age stone slab first unearthed in 1900 may be Europe's oldest 3D map, according to a new study.

The two-metre by one metre Saint-Belec Slab was rediscovered in the cellar of a French castle in 2014. It is thought to date from between 1900BC and 1650BC.

Researchers Yvan Pailler and Clement Nicolas tracked down the stone after reading about it in an article.

They were alerted to its cartological origins after analysing the "presence of repeated motifs joined by lines" on its sizeable surface, the French Prehistorical Society-published study said.

Some of the lines are more deeply etched than others, believed to indicate the relative importance of the demarcated areas.

"Georeferencing" of the indentations indicated the stone to be 3D depiction of the River Odet valley and its tributaries, the archaeologists said.

If they are correct, then the atavistic atlas would be the oldest known in Europe.

The Saint-Belec Slab was first dug up in a burial ground in Finistere, in west Brittany, in 1900. Why it was in a tomb is one of the mysteries it is yet to yield.

Messrs Pailler and Nicolas speculated that the map could have been buried with its author, because it was customary for Bronze Age scribes to be entombed with their work. But as all those who used to embark on car journeys with an AA Route Planner to hand will know, map reading has always been an imprecise science.

Updated: April 8, 2021 05:24 PM

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