Navigating the Ancient World: 6 Maps that Changed How People Viewed the Earth

Close up of a Danish Map Stone.

Danish Map Stones

In June 2016 a new discovery at a Danish archaeological site had many people very excited. 10 stone fragments were found during an excavation at the Vasagard site in Bornholm, a small island in the Baltic Sea. Excavations have been conducted at the site since the 1990s.

Throughout the excavations, hundreds of different broken flat stones with radiating straight lines have been found. These stones were dubbed “sun stones” because it is believed that they were used as part of the sun-worshiping rituals that were performed at the site about 5,000 years ago. The stones discovered at the site in 2016 are very different, which is what have many archaeologists believing that they are not sun stones at all, but rather map stones.

These stones are very detailed and look like stylized map drawings. There are pictures of mountains and fields with crops. What is remarkable about the stones is that they are quite small despite likely being some sort of map and featuring rather detailed carvings. The most detailed stone measures only 2 inches across and is broken into three pieces. The other stone pieces with map etchings were of a similar size.

Since the pieces were just fragments, much like the pieces of sun stones that were discovered, archaeologists believe that the map stones were deliberately crushed. Often the stun stones would be crushed during rituals and the pieces scattered. The shape and location of the map stones suggestion something similar was done to them. The culture that existed on the site between 2900 BCE and 2700 BCE placed importance on ritual objects but also gave them a sort of shelf life. They would be destroyed at a sacred place to increase the magic of the ritual and then the broken pieces would no longer be of use in the human world, but they could be useful to the spirit world.