The mysterious 230-year-old inscription on a rock on the coast of Brittany has finally been deciphered after a competition that caused international interest and it has been revealed that it is a tribute to a drowned sailor.
The rock in Plougastel-Daoulas was the subject of a lengthy competition to see who could decipher the mysterious inscription on it.
It had remained untranslated for so long because apart from being only accessible at low tide, it was believed to have been made up of Breton and Welsh words using normal French letters, some of which were reversed or upside-down, and there are also some Scandinavian-style ‘O’ letters with a line through the middle as well as an image of a ship and a heart surmounted by a cross.
Two propositions have been retained with the winners splitting the 2,000-EUR (1,680-GBP) prize money on Monday.
The Mayor of Plougastel Dominique Cap said the two translations were somewhat different but the narratives that resulted from them were “very similiar.”
Both propositions suggest the inscription on the rock was a homage to a man who perished at sea.
Noel Rene Toudic, a Celtic language expert and an English teacher who lives in Ile-et-Vilaine, said he had translated the inscription based on the assumption that the author was speaking 18th-Century Breton and was not completely literate.
In his opinion, the primary part of the inscription therefore reads: “Serge died when with no skill at rowing, his boat was tipped over by the wind.”
The other winning proposition was offered by historian and reporter Roger Faligot and comic book artist Alain Robet, who live in the Finistere department, not far from Plougaste-Daoulas.
It reads: “Remembering the one who rests free. He was the incarnation of bravery and joie de vivre.”
The translation is said to be in Breton and the two dates in the text (1786 and 1787) are believed to correspond to the time of death of ‘Serge’ and the when the inscription was made.
To solve the riddle of translating the text, the winners are said to have had to move the various bits of text around and tried out different combinations.
The rock was first discovered in 1979 but it was not until 2019 that the local council organised the competition, dubbed the “Champollion Challenge”.
In total, 61 propositions are said to have been submitted for consideration. Many were from France, but there were also propositions from the USA and other countries.
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