Europe's 'OLDEST map' carved into stone slab 4,000 years ago finally found after being 'lost to history'

A RECENTLY unearthed stone slab dating back to the Bronze Age may represent Europe's oldest map.

Intricate carvings on the piece of rock, known as the Saint-Bélec Slab, depict an area of western Brittany, France, according to scientists.

The 2m by 1.5m (6.5ft by 5ft) artefact is believed to date from the early Bronze Age, between 1900 BC and 1650 BC, the BBC reports.

Researchers say this makes the fragmented stone the oldest 3D map of a known region in Europe.

A research paper on the findings has been published in the Bulletin of the French Prehistoric Society.

"This is probably the oldest map of a territory that has been identified," said study lead author Clément Nicolas from Bournemouth University.

"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."

The Saint-Bélec Slab was unearthed from an ancient burial mound in Finistère, western Brittany, by local archaeologist Paul du Chatellier in 1900.

He speculated that the markings represented a shapeless human, or perhaps an image of a beast.

The slab was set aside in Chatellier's home and apparently forgotten about for a century before it was rediscovered in 2014.

New 3D surveys of the artefact suggest that it features a map of the local area engraved thousands of years ago.

It contains many of the features experts might expect on a prehistoric map, such as the "presence of repeated motifs joined by lines", the study says.

The engraved surface was shaped in 3D to represent the valley of the River Odet, with several lines corresponding to the river network.

Geo-location surveys show that the map lines up with 80 per cent accuracy to an 18-mile-long (29km) stretch of the valley in Brittany.

The slab is thought to have marked an area of strategic importance at the time.

"It was probably a way to affirm the ownership of the territory by a small prince or king at the time," Dr Nicholas said.

"We tend to underestimate the geographical knowledge of past societies. This slab is important as it highlights this cartographical knowledge."

In other news, Stonehenge may have stood in Wales for 400 years before it was dismantled and rebuilt in Wiltshire, according to research.

Human skulls were transformed into pots and drinking cups as recently as 4,000 years ago by Bronze Age Brits.

And, the graves of 50 slaves who were forced to build an elite Roman villa in the UK have been unearthed.

What do you make of the Bronze Age "map"? Let us know in the comments!

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