Calling all puzzle geeks: the town of Plougastel-Daoulas in Brittany, France, is offering approximately $2,250 USD to anyone who can help decipher an inscription in an unknown language carved into a rock at a local beach. Since the inscribed boulder was found several years ago, no one has been able to crack the code.
Agence-France Presse reports that the rock is about the size of person and is located on a path to the beach from the town of Illien ar Gwenn, to the north of Pointe du Corbeau. It is only visible at low tide.
According to the Hugh Schofield at the BBC, the inscription contains approximately 20 lines of text. which reads, in part: ROC AR B... DRE AR GRIO SE EVELOH AR VIRIONES BAOAVEL... R I OBBIIE: BRISBVILAR... FROIK...AL.”
The text includes the Scandinavian-style Ø letter, a rendering of a sailboat and a sacred heart. The dates 1786 and 1787 are also discernable.
“We’ve asked historians and archaeologists from around here, but no-one has been able to work out the story behind the rock,” Dominique Cap, Mayor of Plougastel tells Schofield. “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 contest is officially called “The Champollion Mystery at Plougastel-Daoulas” in honor of French historian and linguist Jean-François Champollion, who was the first to decipher the Rosetta Stone. Anyone interested in trying their hand at cracking the code can register with mayor’s office, which will give them access to photos of the inscription to work on. So far, several hundred people have expressed interest in participating. The contest will conclude in November, when a panel of experts will assess the interpretations and choose the most plausible translation to receive the cash prize.
There is one clue that may shed some light on the mystery: In 1786 and 1787, the area was home to military installations. It’s possible the writing comes from a soldier or builder associated with them. “These dates correspond more or less to the years that various artillery batteries that protected Brest and notably Corbeau Fort which is right next to it," Veronique Martin, a town official who is running the project, tells AFP.
But it might not be possible to crack the code. There are lots of languages and inscriptions that still leave archaeologists and linguists scratching their heads. Arika Okrent at Mental Floss reports, for instance, that researchers are still stymied by important writing systems, including the Indus Valley Script, the early Greek script known as Linear A, hieroglyphics from the island of Crete, the symbols of the Olmec writing system, Easter Island’s Rongorongo system and Proto-Elamite, a writing system used in Iran 5,000 years ago.