First discovered more than a century ago in France, a stone slab dating from the Bronze Age has finally revealed its secrets: it may just be the earliest map of Europe ever made to help us better understand this period of humankind.
“This is probably the oldest map of a territory that has been identified,” in Europe, says Clément Nicolas from Bournemouth University, author of the study. The 4,000-year-old Saint-Bélec slab is from the early Bronze Age, which is 2150-1600 B.C.
In 1900, the four-meter-long broken slab was discovered in a prehistoric burial ground in Brittany’s Finistère department. Bought by France’s Museum of National Antiquities 1924 and stored away in a castle – only to be forgotten – it was rediscovered in 2014. Analyses ensued using high-resolution 3D surveys and photogrammetry. The findings revealed that the slab was a representation of an area close to River Odet in western France that covered 30 kilometers by 21 km, probably used by a Bronze Age prince or king to mark ownership over the area. This discovery has the potential to teach us about past societies through cartographical knowledge.