The Saint-Bélec stone slab was first discovered over a century ago in Brittany, France. According to a new study conducted by the University of Bournemouth and the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap), it might be the oldest known map in Europe. The map dates back to the years 2150-1600 B.C. in a prehistoric burial ground in Finistère.
The slab was first excavated in 1900 by French archaeologist Paul du Châtellier, whose findings have been showcased by the National Antiquities Museum (MAN) since 1924. The stone map was then abandoned and remained forgotten until 2014 when rediscovered in an underground compartment under the museum's chateau at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. After careful analysis of the map, the skilled team of historians is convinced that the stone's engravings represent the Odet River, and other lines show the region's streams. Cartographers who cooperated with the study stated that the markings are 80% identical to a 20-mile zone of the Odet valley.
A Bronze Age stone slab which was excavated in France in 1900 has been revealed to be the oldest known map in Europe. Researchers, including those from BU, identified it as the oldest cartographical representation of a known territory in Europe: https://t.co/ldKXpMJjNt pic.twitter.com/BExKOxUkqj— Bournemouth Uni (@bournemouthuni) April 8, 2021
The team used other tools to confirm that the slab was indeed a map and not a mere coincidence. The historians compared the slab to other prehistoric European maps and singled out attributions found on the Saint-Bélec Slab. "Some of the elements represented may be oversized, while their positioning is not necessarily in proportion to the distances that separate them," the researchers commented. The findings suggested that the slab highlights prehistoric societies' mapping expertise, as the "oversized elements" could be inferred as geological placemarks or cities.
"It was the subject of a significant study that allowed it to be interpreted as the oldest cartographical representation of a known territory in Europe," the team wrote in the conclusion of their paper, before noting that it may have even more significance. The researchers believe that the stone slab is a "probable marker of the political power of a principality of the early bronze age."
💬 Découvrez notre entretien avec Yvan Pailler, chercheur à l’Inrap et @UBO_UnivBrest et Clément Nicolas @bournemouthuni qui dévoilent leurs conclusions sur cette exceptionnelle découverte 👉https://t.co/CWICdS3jsC pic.twitter.com/TiQpILfNjG— Inrap (@Inrap) April 6, 2021
"The Saint-Bélec Slab depicts the territory of a strongly hierarchical political entity that tightly controlled a territory in the early Bronze Age," the researchers concluded. They inferred from their findings that the slab's burial marked the "end of the rejection of the elites who exercised their power over the society for several centuries during the Early Bronze Age." The university's official statement can be found here.