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The oldest map of Europe would come from Leuhan!  – Brittany

The discovery is described as “exceptional”. “The decorated slab of Saint-Bélec in Leuhan (29) is probably the oldest cartographic representation of a territory known in Europe”, indicates Yvan Pailler, researcher at Inrap, seconded to theUniversity of Western Brittany. The latter came to this conclusion with Clément Nicolas, post-doctoral fellow Marie Curie / Bournemouth University.

From Leuhan to Saint-Germain-en-Laye

It was in 1900 that this 4,000-year-old schist stone, a little over a ton, 2.20 m long, 1.53 m wide and 16 cm thick, was unearthed by the Breton prehistorian Paul du Chatellier, by excavating a tumulus in Leuhan. “At the time, it was a bit like looking for treasure,” says Yvan Pailler. At the bottom of the tomb, a crushed pottery. And on one side, this famous decorated slab that Paul du Chatellier will bring home, to the castle of Kernuz, in Pont-l’Abbé (29). In 1924, the chatelain’s son sold his father’s collections to the Museum of National Antiquities (MAN) in Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

Stored in the moat

Not inventoried, the stone is stored in an alcove of the moat of the building until 1990. It will finally be found in the cellar in 2014. It is a writing by Paul du Chatellier that will arouse the interest of Yvan Pailler and Clement Nicolas. The two researchers have the same impression: “It looks like a map! “It was just a feeling, after that we had to demonstrate it”.

In the cellars of the National Archeology Museum – 3D scanning of the slab by V. Lacombe (DigiScan3D) in 2017 (P. Stéphan, CNRS)

Strong analogies

All engravings (round and oval cups, straight or curved lines, squares, circles,

piriform patterns), connected by a network of lines, are recorded with a 3D scanner. “We quickly noticed strong analogies with striking topographical elements of the surrounding landscape. Namely the Odet valley, the crest line of the Black Mountains, the Landudal massif and other rivers a little more modest, details Yvan Pailler. We can safely say that it is indeed a cartographic document representing a territory 30 km long and 21 wide ”. For the researcher, this is a “probable marker of the political power of a principality of the Early Bronze Age”.

The oldest map of Europe would come from Leuhan!  – Brittany
Detail view of the left part of the Saint-Bélec slab. The triangle cleared in bas-relief would correspond to the Odet valley bordered to the north by the crest line of the Black Mountains and to the south by the hills of Coadri. At the right end of the triangle is the central motif, which would be located near the sources of the Odet. (Denis Gliksman, Inrap)

The rejection of the elites?

And how can we explain that this “map” ended up in a vault? “We are undoubtedly on a change of model”. According to specialists, this “act of burying” could mark “the end or the rejection of the elites who will have exercised their power over society for several centuries”.

Either way, researchers still have a long way to go. “The work has only just begun. We are here to decipher all the symbols ”. A long-term job that could take a few more years before fully unraveling the mystery of the Leuhan slab.

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