Strangely engraved rock is a giant ‘treasure map’, say archaeologists: ScienceAlert
A mysteriously marked piece of rock that has remained largely unstudied for 4,000 years is now hailed as a “treasure map” for archaeologists, who use it to search for ancient sites across northwest France.
Researchers deemed the so-called San Bellec slab to be the oldest map in Europe in 2021, and have been working ever since to understand its inscriptions – to help them date the slab and rediscover the lost relics.
“Using a map to try to find archaeological sites is a great approach. We never work that way,” said Ivan Bailer, a professor at the University of Western Brittany (UBO).
Ancient sites are most commonly discovered by sophisticated radar, aerial photography, or by chance in cities when foundations for new buildings are being dug.
“It’s a treasure map,” Byler said.
But the team has only just begun the treasure hunt.
The old map outlines an area of about 30 x 21 kilometers, and Byler’s colleague, Clement Nicola of the CNRS Research Institute, said they would need to survey the entire area and point to the marks on the plate.
This job could take 15 years, he said.
Rivers and mountains
Nicola and Bailer were part of the team that rediscovered the tablet in 2014 – it was first discovered in 1900 by a local historian who did not understand its significance.
The French experts were joined by colleagues from other institutions in France and abroad as they began to decipher its secrets.
“There were a few engraved symbols that made sense right away,” Byler said.
In the bumps and jagged lines of the tiles, they could see the rivers and mountains of Roodewalk, part of the Brittany region about 500 kilometers west of Paris.
The researchers scanned the painting and compared it to existing maps, finding about an 80 percent match.
“We still have to identify all the engineering symbols and the myth that goes with them,” Nicola said.
The slab is full of small cavities, which researchers believe may indicate burial mounds, dwellings, or geological deposits.
Discovering its meaning could lead to a whole flood of new discoveries.
“Doomed to failure” waved.
But first, archaeologists have spent the past few weeks excavating the site where the stela was initially discovered, which Byler said was one of the largest Bronze Age burial sites in Brittany.
“We are trying to better contextualize the discovery, to find a way to date the painting,” Byler said.
Recent excavations have already uncovered a handful of previously undiscovered parts of the slab.
The pieces appear to have been broken down and used as a tomb wall in what Nicholas suggests could indicate the changing power dynamics of Bronze Age settlements.
The area covered by the map probably corresponds to an ancient kingdom, which may have collapsed due to revolutions and rebellions.
“The engraved plaque no longer made sense and was doomed to be broken up and used as building material,” Nicola said.
© Agence France-Presse