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

The markings are unfamiliar: carved contours that now only hint at a lost landscape from extensive in the past. However, a significant, mysterious slab of stone recently rediscovered in France seems to be like it may possibly just be the oldest recognized map in Europe.


In a new examine, researchers re-examined the Saint-Bélec slab – an intricately carved, partly damaged slab of stone 1st found in 1900, just before becoming set aside in a castle and mainly overlooked about for over 100 decades.

Only now are fashionable archaeologists reappraising the slab and discovering its significance – specifically, that it could in simple fact characterize the most historic cartographical depiction of regarded land in Europe.

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

“This is almost certainly the oldest map of a territory that has been recognized,” first creator of the research, Clément Nicolas from Bournemouth College in the Uk, informed the BBC.

“There are numerous this sort of maps carved in stone all about the entire world. Usually, they are just interpretations. But this is the to start with time a map has depicted an area on a precise scale.”

Pretty how the Saint-Bélec slab manufactured its way into the current working day isn’t really thoroughly comprehended, but it is really absolutely been a weird journey.

In more new occasions, the stone was uncovered in 1900 by the French prehistorian Paul du Chatellier, who excavated the engraved slab from an historic burial mound in the city of Leuhan in the Brittany region of north-western France.

As for what the carvings on the practically 4-meter-extensive (13 ft) slab ended up meant to signify, du Chatellier was not guaranteed. He observed at the time that some students interpreted the markings as a shapeless human illustration, or maybe a image of a beast – but also suggested the meanings could possibly only be uncovered in long run exploration.

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

“Allow us not permit ourselves be led astray by fantasy, leaving it to a Champollion, who will most likely obtain himself a single working day, to go through it to us,” du Chatellier wrote.

In spite of the grand guarantee, du Chatellier reserved the slab in his personal collection, prior to it was bought by his youngsters to the French Museum of National Archaeology, which saved it in isolation for several decades in the area of interest of a castle moat.


It was 2014 when the mostly forgotten Saint-Bélec slab was at last rediscovered again, located in a cellar of the castle. A handful of decades later, Nicolas and his intercontinental workforce set about conducting the first present day investigation of the slab, employing substantial-resolution 3D surveying tactics to document and analyze the morphology and chronology of the stonework.

A person of the slab’s good mysteries is what a map like this was doing in the Saint-Bélec burial mound in the to start with position. The tomb in issue is believed to day again to the close of the early Bronze Age (about 1900–1640 BCE), but the slab by itself is likely older, perhaps being carved before in the early Bronze Age, potentially many years or generations before, the researchers feel.

If they are proper, it suggests this ancient map slab was getting reused for some cause as part of the burial process, forming 1 of the walls of the stone barrow, with the engraved facet struggling with inward to the tomb, that means the markings weren’t exposed to the elements for hundreds of decades, which will help to reveal why they continue being comparatively unweathered to this working day.

In accordance to the researchers, the map-like engravings and motifs carved on the area of the slab supply a rough three-dimensional (3D) match to the river area in which the historical burial mound existed.

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

“A key level is that the engravers appear to have modified the initial floor aid of the slab to produce the sought after 3D-form that compares to the topography of the bordering landscape,” the researchers write in their paper, noting that the Saint-Bélec barrow overlooks the valley of the mapped Odet River location.

“[We] ensure a very good correspondence amongst the carvings and the topography, with very similar outcomes to ethnographic solicited maps. This kind of correlations give … an idea of the feasible scale of the room represented: an location c. 30 km extended and 21 km large.”


What is considerably less sure is what other motifs carved into the slab may possibly signify, but it is doable they could mirror the spot of early Bronze Age settlements, other barrow websites, area methods, and tracks, the crew implies.

If so, it may possibly be that the map mirrored a variety of organizational approach of land use and ownership in accordance to the political and financial rulers of the early society that carved this item.

“There was unquestionably a justification for carving this operate in stone … leaving a mark,” describes one particular of the team, archeologist Yvan Pailler from the College of Western Brittany.

“Earning a cartography like that … is often joined to the affirmation of a ability, of an authority in excess of a territory. This is the typical context of accomplishment that occurs in the Early Bronze Age, at a time when we see the emergence of remarkably hierarchical societies.”

In this sort of an interpretation, it is really attainable the slab was afterwards forged into the grave as a subsequent rejection of the electricity and assets method of this ruling elite – to be buried for thousands of several years, prior to its enigmatic divisions would last but not least talk the lay of the land once additional.

The results are claimed in Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française.