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How a Bronze Age rock became a 'treasure map' for researchers

Published October 21, 2023 Updated October 21, 2023 Bookmark Bookmark Share WhatsApp Telegram Facebook Twitter Email LinkedIn

LEUHAN (France) — A piece of rock with mysterious markings that lay largely unstudied for 4,000 years is now being hailed as a “treasure map” for archaeologists, who are using it to hunt for ancient sites around north-western France. 

The so-called Saint-Belec slab was claimed as Europe’s oldest map by researchers in 2021 and they have been working ever since to understand its etchings — both to help them date the slab, and to rediscover lost monuments. 

“Using the map to try to find archaeological sites is a great approach. We never work like that,” said Dr Yvan Pailler, a professor at the University of Western Brittany (UBO). 

Ancient sites are more commonly uncovered by sophisticated radar equipment, aerial photography or by accident in cities when the foundations for new buildings are being dug. 

“It’s a treasure map,” said Dr Pailler.

But the team are only just beginning their treasure hunt.

The ancient map marks an area roughly 30 by 21km and Dr Pailler’s colleague, Dr Clement Nicolas from the CNRS research institute, said they would need to survey the entire territory and cross reference the markings on the slab. 

That job could take 15 years, he said.

The pieces had apparently been broken off and used as a tomb wall in what Dr Nicolas suggests could signify the shifting power dynamics of Bronze Age settlements.

The area covered by the map probably corresponds to an ancient kingdom, perhaps one that collapsed in revolts and rebellions.

“The engraved slab no longer made sense and was doomed by being broken up and used as building material,” said Dr Nicolas. AFP

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