A mysterious 4,000-year-old slab may be a treasure map that could point the way to long-lost Bronze Age riches

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A mysterious 4,000-year-old slab may be a treasure map that could point the way to long-lost Bronze Age riches
The Saint-Bélec slab was long a mysterious set of engravings, but scientists now think it's a map that could point to long-lost archaeological sites.D. Gliksman
  • A mysterious millennia-old slab sat undisturbed in storage for more than a century.
  • Scientists found it was a gigantic map, likely used by a Bronze Age prince to rule the area.
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Mysterious engravings on an ancient stone slab, long relegated to the storage area of an ancient castle, might reveal the locations of long-lost Bronze Age treasure.

A new analysis of the slab, which had been forgotten since it was first discovered in the early 1900s, suggests it could mark the location of forgotten Bronze Age sites dating back to between 2,150 and 1,600 BC.

"Using the map to try to find archaeological sites is a great approach. We never work like that," said Yvan Pailler, a professor at the University of Western Brittany, told Agence France Presse (AFP), Science Alert reported. "It's a treasure map," he said.

Secrets from the Bronze Age

Paul du Châtellier, an archaeologist of the late 1800s, was clearly struck by the profound significance of the gigantic block, known as the Saint-Bélec slab, when he first uncovered it lining an ancient burial mound in Brittany, on the west coast of France in 1900.

He marveled at the "remarkable monument's" delicate engravings of cups, circles, and lines, but he didn't quite know what to make of it, per a post written about the finding published in 2021 in The Conversation.

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Sadly, he would go to his grave without uncovering the secrets of the mysterious rock. The slab remained du Châtellier's castle storage and was passed on to the French Museum of National Archaeology after his death in 1911.

It's only a century later that the hidden meaning behind the prehistoric engravings may have been revealed.

A mysterious 4,000-year-old slab may be a treasure map that could point the way to long-lost Bronze Age riches
The slab is shown here being photographed by a scientistY. Pailler, Inrap, Examining the Saint-Bélec slab

It could lead to an archeological treasure

After some sleuthing to recover the lost slab, whose pictures had been shared in archaeological circles since the 1900s, experts conducted a thorough analysis of the engravings, including scanning the rock in a 3D scanner.

As we now have the technology to know exactly what an area looks like from above, the significance of the lines and bumps in the rock became immediately apparent, said Pailler, who led the analysis of the slab, per AFP.

The scientists found an 80% match with the rivers and mountains of the Roudouallec area in Brittany.

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The findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française in 2021, identified the map as the oldest cartographical representation of a territory in Europe.

The scientists are now hoping to uncover the last secrets of the map to find new Bronze Age archaeological sites.

"What we're missing now is the map key, the decoder," said Clément Nicolas, a lead researcher on the dig from Bournemouth University, in a post for research institute Inrap in 2021.

The cups, they believe, could be burial mounds, houses, or even mineral deposits, AFP reported.

For the past few weeks, the researchers have been excavating the site where the slab was originally found to better date the discovery, Pailler said per AFP. The dig has uncovered some lost fragments of the slab that had been snapped off and left behind.

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The map was likely used by a despotic Bronze Age ruler

The map could point the way to a burial mound of a prince, per a post from the National Archaeology Museum.

It's likely that it was once used by a prince from the early Bronze Age who would have directed a small military faction to forcibly rule the area.

Such rulers were typically buried with bronze daggers, arrowheads, and sometimes golden objects.

The fact the map was carelessly broken into pieces to be used as building materials could be the sign that the prince's rule in that area had come to an end.

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

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