An ancient engraving on a very old stone slab has been called the oldest 3D map of Europe.
The stone, which measures 2 meters by 1.5 meters (6.6 feet by 5 feet), has been named the Saint-Bélec Slab. It was initially found back in the year 1900 by archaeologist Paul du Chatellier during a dig at a prehistoric burial ground in Finistère, western Brittany, and was rediscovered in the cellar of the French castle, Château de Kernuz, over a century later in 2014.
Recent analysis of the stone revealed that it dates back approximately 4,000 years (between 1900 BC and 1650 BC during the early Bronze Age) and contains what archaeologists believe is an ancient map of an area in France’s northwestern region of Brittany.
According to the Bulletin of the French Prehistoric Society, the “presence of repeated motifs joined by lines” indicates that it was engraved to represent an area of Finistère. Furthermore, experts who analyzed the stone believe that the indentations on the slab depict the River Odet valley and additional lines seemingly show the river network. As a matter of fact, thanks to high-resolution 3D surveys and photogrammetry, the experts were able to determine that the engravings on the stone are about 80% accurate to a location in Brittany that surrounds an 18-mile long stretch of the River Odet.
In an interview with the BBC, Dr. Clément Nicolas from Bournemouth University stated, “This is probably the oldest map of a territory that has been identified.”
He went on to explain the slab in further detail, “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,” adding, “It was probably a way to affirm the ownership of the territory by a small prince or king at the time.”
It’s incredible to think that someone who lived around 4,000 years ago created such a detailed three-dimensional map on a stone slab. “We tend to underestimate the geographical knowledge of past societies. This slab is important as it highlights this cartographical knowledge,” Dr. Nicolas noted.
Pictures of the stone slab with the engraved map can be seen here.