Officials in a French village are offering a €2,000 ($2,200) reward for anyone who can decipher a series of letters on a centuries-old rock, CNN reports.
Authorities in Plougastel-Daoulas, a village in Brittany, northwest France, have known about the rock for a few years. Tucked away in a seaside cave that is only accessible at low tide, the rock is about three feet tall and bears about 20 lines of text and pictograms, according to BBC News.
But academics who have looked at the rock have been unable to make heads or tails of it. It’s thought to be not more than a couple hundred years old, based on the dates 1786 and 1787 carved into it. Those dates roughly correspond to the time period when forts and artillery batteries were built in a nearby port city. It also uses the Roman alphabet, ruling out the possibility that it dates to before the time the Romans conquered the region.
A couple of Scandinavian letters, such as Ø, also appear in the lines of text. Pictograms depict a sailboat (giving credence to the suggestion that it has something to do with the construction at the nearby seaport) and a Sacred Heart, suggesting that its carver was a Christian.
Other than that, officials have nothing.
France asks: Can you solve the riddle of the rock? https://t.co/Zad6JyNJUP— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) May 10, 2019
The lines of text appear to be little more than gibberish to French speakers and English speakers alike.
One line reads, “ROC AR B… DRE AR GRIO SE EVELOH AR VIRIONES BAOAVEL.”
Another reads, “R I OBBIIE: BRISBVILAR… FROIK…AL.”
One theory is that the inscription was written by an individual who wasn’t fully literate and that he wrote the words as they sounded to him phonetically. If that’s the case, officials not only have to figure out what the mystery writer was trying to say, says Mayor Dominique Cap, they have to figure out what language they were attempting to write.
“There are people who tell us that it’s Basque and others who say it’s Old Breton.”
Complicating matters even further, it may have been wholly or in part a coded message, which means the stone’s decipherer would have to be able to figure out both the stone’s cryptographic solution as well as become conversant in one or the other of two ancient languages.
Authorities are asking linguists, historians, archaeologists, cryptologists, and whomever else thinks they might be able to take a crack at it and give it their best shot. A jury will decide which translation is the most likely, and the winner will walk away with a couple thousand euros.
The deadline to submit your entry is in November.