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

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. 

RIVERS AND MOUNTAINS

Dr Nicolas and Dr Pailler were part of the team that rediscovered the slab in 2014 — it was initially uncovered 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 overseas as they began to decode its mysteries. 

“There were a few engraved symbols that made sense right away,” said Dr Pailler.  

In the coarse bumps and lines of the slab, they could see the rivers and mountains of Roudouallec, part of the Brittany region about 500km west of Paris.

The researchers scanned the slab and compared it with current maps, finding a roughly 80 per cent match. 

“We still have to identify all the geometric symbols, the legend that goes with them,” said Dr Nicolas.

The slab is pocked with tiny hollows, which researchers believe could point to burial mounds, dwellings or geological deposits.

Discovering their meaning could lead to a whole flood of new finds.

‘DOOMED’ SLAB

But first, the archaeologists have spent the past few weeks digging at the site where the slab was initially uncovered, which Dr Pailler said was one of the biggest Bronze Age burial sites in Brittany.

“We are trying to better contextualise the discovery, to have a way to date the slab,” said Dr Pailler.

Their latest dig has already turned up a handful of previously undiscovered fragments from the slab.

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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