September 22, 2020

France rock riddle contest gives meaning to mysterious inscription

An inscription on a rock in Plougastel-Daoulas, western France.

A competition to decipher a 230-year-old message on a rock on the coast of Brittany has found that a tragic death was at the heart of the inscription.

The village of Plougastel launched a competition to decipher the mysterious message after local experts were unable to make sense of it.

Two winners split the €2,000 (£1,679) prize money on Monday.

Mayor Dominique Cap said their translations had differed but the resulting stories were “very similar”.

Both winners agreed that the inscription was made in remembrance of a man who died.

Noël René Toudic, an English teacher and Celtic language expert, said he worked on the basis that the writer was a semi-literate man speaking 18th-Century Breton.

The key part of his translation reads: “Serge died when with no skill at rowing, his boat was tipped over by the wind.”

The other winning entry was by historian Roger Faligot and artist Alain Robet.

They also say the text is written in Breton, but believe some of the words are Welsh.

Their translation reads: “He was the incarnation of courage and joie de vivre. Somewhere on the island he was struck and he is dead.”

Discovered a few years ago, the 20-line inscription is written on a metre-high slab in a cove in Brittany, only accessible at low tide.

Alongside normal French letters, some are reversed or upside-down and there are also some Scandinavian-style Ø letters.

The years 1786 and 1787 are visible, dating the inscription to a few years before the French Revolution. There is also the image of a ship and a heart surmounted by a cross.

The inscription was discovered a few years ago but local academics were unable to interpret it.

Local officials said 61 complete translations were submitted in the competition. Most came from France, but entries were also submitted from countries including the US and Thailand.

A panel made up of historians judged the entries, finding that the two winning theories were the most plausible interpretations.

Mr Cap said there was still a long way to go to “completely solve the mystery” but described the result of the competition as a “big step forward”, according to AFP news agency.

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