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Could you decipher a semi-ancient code from a centuries-old stone? A French village is offering a reward to do just that. A €2,000 reward to be exact (about $2,246 at the date of publishing). A 230-year-old stone found off a cove off of a village outside of the village of Plougastel in Brittany contains 20 lines of script that no one to date has been able to decipher, and the French are asking for help in deciphering it.
Called “The Champollion Mystery at Plougastel-Daoulas,” the challenge pays tribute to the person who deciphered ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics on the Rosetta Stone, Jean-François Champollion, in the nineteenth century.
The stone, about a meter tall, is only accessible through the cove, and only at low tide. Researchers have dated the stone to just a few years before the French Revolution.
But the letters on the stone don’t seem to make sense — at least not to those who have seen it to date, including academics well-versed in ancient languages Not only does it contain French lettering, but its other French lettering is reversed or upside down. In addition, the stone contains non-French lettering.
For example, it contains lettering that appears to be similar to those found on Runes from Scandinavia, such as the Ø. Some local academics believe the language to be from the old Basque language.
According to Dominique Cap, Plougastel-Daoulas’ mayor, said:
“There are people who tell us it’s Basque, and others who say it’s Old Breton.”
Old Basque is said to be the oldest language in Europe – a “language isolate” according to linguists. As of 2015, about 700,000 people still spoke the “relic language” that is very different from any other known language.
Old Breton, on the other hand, is a Celtic language that shares “basic vocabulary” with other languages such as Cornish and Welsh, as well as with other Celtic languages. Similarities include the use of the particular grammar of consonants to determine the gender of the person with whom the person is speaking – much like Spanish and Latin American languages do.
Although the language was spoken up until the eleventh century, a movement in the twentieth century revived Old Breton.
Of the stone and the challenge, Mayor Cap said:
“We’ve asked historians and archaeologists from around here, but no-one had been able to work out the story behind the rock. … So we thought maybe out there in the world there are people who’ve got the kind of expert knowledge that we need. Rather than stay in ignorance, we said let’s launch a competition.”
The municipal councilor, Michel Paugam, who tends to the heritage of the local area said that 20 lines are “a lot of words.” That some of the words contain letters of the French alphabet doesn’t matter, though, as no one in the region can read them.
Part of the inscription contains two dates, which apparently correspond to batteries and forts constructed centuries ago. The dates are 1786 and 1787, while some of the rest of the inscription reads:
“ROC AR B… DRE AR GRIO SE EVELOH AR VIRIONES BAOAVEL… R I OBBIIE: BRISBVILAR… FROIK…AL.”
Some of the inscriptions are worn away, presumably by the water the stone was found in.
Anyone who wants to attempt to decode the stone’s inscription should contact Mayor Cap’s administration. After they do, the office will send photos of the stone and its inscription.
If you think you may have an idea of what it says, and do want to register, you’ll have until November of 2019 to register. After the deadline to register passes, a panel of judges will determine the “most likely interpretation of the inscription.” Only then will the prize be awarded.
Featured image by AFP, via Fox59.