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Researchers: Bronze Age carved stone is Europe’s oldest map

CNN – An engraved slab of stone dating back to the Bronze Age is Europe’s oldest map, researchers said.

Researchers re-examined the Saint-Bélec Slab using high resolution 3D surveys and photogrammetry. The broken piece of stone was discovered in 1900 but was forgotten about for nearly a century.

Researchers from the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap), the UK’s Bournemouth University, the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the University of Western Brittany say the recent study of the stone has revealed it to be the oldest cartographic representation of a known territory in Europe, CNN reported.

The slab was dug up from a burial mound in western Brittany and was thought to have been reused in an ancient burial toward the end of the early Bronze Age (between 1900 and 1640 BCE).

Experts said it formed a wall of a small, coffin-like box containing human remains. The 12.7-foot-long stone was already broken and missing its upper half when it was unearthed.

In 1900, it was moved to a private museum, and until the 1990s, it was stored in the National Museum of Archaeology in the castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, in a niche in the castle moat. In 2014, it was rediscovered in one of the museum’s cellar, CNN reported.

When researchers began studying it again, they realized the carvings looked like a map with deliberately 3D-shaped land features.

The team noticed similarities between the engravings and elements of the landscape of western Brittany, with the territory represented on the slab appearing to show a region of about 19 miles by 13 miles, along the course of the Odet river.

Clément Nicolas, a postdoctoral researcher at Bournemouth University and first author of the study, told CNN that the discovery “highlights the cartographic knowledge of prehistoric societies.”

Researchers still don’t know why the stone was broken in the first place.

“The Saint-Bélec Slab depicts the territory of a strongly hierarchical political entity that tightly controlled a territory in the early Bronze Age, and breaking it may have indicated condemnation and deconsecration,” Nicolas said.

The study was published in the French journal Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française.

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