By Tim Binnall
A mystery surrounding a heretofore indecipherable message inscribed into a rock in a French village centuries ago has reportedly been solved. Located in the community of Plougastel-Daoulas, the puzzling stone sports twenty lines of seemingly random letters along with the dates 1786 and 1787 as well as a picture of a boat. Since its discovery a few years ago, countless experts have attempted to decode the writing, but the challenge proved to be impossible until this past year when officials in the village came up with a rather novel idea.
In May of 2019, the mayor of Plougastel-Daoulas announced that they were launching a contest in which the first person to decipher the mysterious writing would receive a reward of around $2,250. This served to both generate media interest surrounding the stone and, of course, inspire would-be cryptographers to try and crack the case. This past November, when the contest reached its deadline, a panel of historians enlisted by the village had received a rather sizeable 61 entries from individuals who believed that they had accomplished the daunting linguistic feat.
Although the majority of the submissions came from France, the community also received guesses from people in the United States, Russia, Brazil, and a handful of other nations. And, upon examination of the various suggested solutions, the panel found that two separate entries appeared to have largely figured out what was written into the rock. The results of the contest were announced on Monday and officials in the village indicated that, due to the uncanny similarity between the two submissions, the prize money would be split between the two winners.
Although the precise details of the message remain enigmatic, the sentiment behind the inscription appears to be that it is a memorial made by a person who had recently lost a friend. One of the contest winners posited that the inscription honored a soldier who had died at sea, while the other winner suggested that the individual behind the carving was mourning their lost compatriot. In discussing the results of the contest, the mayor of Plougastel-Daoulas marveled that "two totally different paths have arrived at a similar historical background."
Although the mayor conceded that "there is still a way to go to solve the mystery completely," he observed that the contest has provided "a big step forward" since, prior to now, nobody had any idea what the message may have said. With the newfound knowledge that the stone is a memorial for a person lost at sea, it is possible that researchers will be able to connect what are believed to be the names of individuals included in the writing with figures that might be found in the historical record to possibly flesh out the story and ultimately relay the centuries-old tale to a modern audience.