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A 4,000 year old map with a modern twist and an unfolding mystery5 min read

April 8, 2021 4 min read


A 4,000 year old map with a modern twist and an unfolding mystery5 min read

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The story

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It was about 4,000 years ago when a slab with engravings was broken and buried in the tomb of a prehistoric Frenchman. Then this tomb was lost among several others in a giant graveyard. About 3,900 years later, local archaeologist, Paul du Châtellier, was digging away, looking for ancient artefacts in Finistére in France. He found the burial ground and all its treasures, and along with it, he uncovered the broken Saint-Bélec Slab. Compared to this haul that he took to the National Antiquities Museum (MAN), the slab was nothing special. In fact, the Saint-Bélec Slab went missing for almost 100 years. 

A team of French scientists determined the markings were etched 4,000 years ago and depict an area in Western Brittany, France
All the places to which this stone travelled prior to being found. The stone also depicted an area in western Brittany in France that can be seen in the map above. Image: DailyMail

However, something about the stone piqued the interest of modern researchers. They looked and looked and finally found the engraved slab in a cellar, under a moat (wow! it really was neglected) in the chateau of the Museum, Chateau de Kernuz. Then, since they found it in 2014, they carefully studied its various bumps and lines and discovered that they had chanced upon a map! And, a rather accurate one!

How’d they know 

When the researchers got down to study, they discovered a few things:

Researchers take images of the map to make a 3D model using which they could study it. Image: EuroNews
  1.  First of all, the stone was engraved in the Bronze age between 1900 BC and 1650 BC. 
  2. Secondly, the repeated patterns of bumps joined by irregular lines suggested that this stone possibly depicted a map and a 3 Dimensional one! They confirmed their hypothesis by comparing it to similar-looking later representations created by other prehistoric societies.
  3. Thirdly, the map represented the river valley of the river Odet as it flowed through a region of western Brittany, a peninsula in France.
  4. Lastly, they used modern technology and geo-mapping tools to match the map to the area is represented and found that it was 80% accurate!
A mark in the rock
A close look at the grooves and dents in the stone that represent the river valley and surrounding areas. Image: BBC

Owliver’s Obscure Observation: The first modern map made with precise mathematical predictions only arrived about 800 years ago in the 16th century. 

Why bury the map?

Well, the truth is that nobody really knows. Scientists are still investigating, but there are a few theories already floating around. What the researchers do know is that the map depicts an area that was controlled by a very powerful and divisive group of society. They had created a hierarchy in which they were ruthlessly controlling everything from the top. Some say that the map is a celebration of their kingdom or territory. On the other hand, others say that the fact that the Saint-Bélec Slab has been broken is a sign that the Slab’s burial was a celebration of the end of this terrorizing rule. Perhaps, it was both. We really can’t say yet, but you can give it a go.

The map on the slab and actual river valley that it represents. Image: DailyMail

What do you think was behind the burial of the Saint-Bélec Slab? Speculate away! The sky is the limit. 

Explain your wild thoughts and theories to us in the comments below.

Why is it special? 

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This map on the Saint-Bélec Slab is definitely the oldest 3D map of any European region that has ever been found. Moreover, it could very well be the oldest human-made map that has ever been found in this world. There have, of course, been other maps that have depicted prehistoric areas. However, they have been diagrams or drawings rather than accurate scaled-down or miniature representations. 

I suppose we were pretty silly to dismiss a simple engraved rock. Sometimes the plainest of things can hold the most incredible stories! Moreover, I suppose our ancestors weren’t as backward as we thought. In fact, maybe the story of this stone will help us learn a thing or two about the power of equality.

Check out this video for a quick recap and in-depth look at the Saint-Bélec Slab:

With Excerpts From: The Guardian, BBC, EuroNews and The Daily Mail.

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