The kids these days find it hard to believe we ever had to make do with something as archaic as folding paper maps for wayfinding. But just wait until they hear about how it was done in the Bronze Age! A large slab of rock, measuring five by six and a half feet, is thought to be the world’s oldest 3D map of Europe. We’re going to need a bigger glove compartment!
The rock, known as the Saint-Bélec Slab, is from France and is believed to date from the early Bronze Age, between 1900 BCE and 1650 BCE. It was initially discovered during digs of a prehistoric burial ground in Finistère (western Brittany) by local archaeologist Paul du Chatellier in 1900 CE. It then sat forgotten, stored for decades under a moat at the archaeologist’s home, the Château de Kernuz, for more than a century.
Rediscovered in a cellar in 2014, the Saint-Bélec Slab has been studied for the last seven years, and archaeologists now believe the 4,000-year-old stone bears a crude map of a region in western Brittany.
The “presence of repeated motifs joined by lines” on its surface suggested it depicted an area of Finistère, a study in the Bulletin of the French Prehistoric Society said, according to reporting by BBC News. Comparisons to contemporary topography indicate a rough but fairly accurate resemblance to an 18-mile area in the River Odet valley.
“This is probably the oldest map of a territory [in Europe] that has been identified,” Clément Nicolas from Bournemouth University, one of the study’s authors, told the BBC. Nicolas thinks the map may have been used to identify the landholdings of a particular prince or king of the time.
“We tend to underestimate the geographical knowledge of past societies. This slab is important as it highlights this cartographical knowledge,” Nicolas continued. With this research, humanity’s breadth and interest in cartography are once again affirmed — but we do have to give it up to millennials for rocking out options with greater portability.