Breton village offers reward to decipher mysterious stone inscription

The village of Plougastel-Daoulas in Brittany is sending out an appeal to linguists, cryptographers, students, scholars and puzzlers of all stripes to decipher a mysterious inscription carved onto a boulder centuries ago, and they’re willing to put money on it.

The inscription begins “grocar drear diozeevbio” and more text follows — “roc ar b,” “dre ar grio se eveloh ar viriones baoavel,” “r i obbiie:brisbvilar” — none of it in any recognized language.

“This inscription is a mystery and it is for this that we are launching the appeal,” said Veronique Martin, who is spearheading the search for a code-cracker.

The rock, which is around the size of a person, is accessed via a path from the hamlet of Illien ar Gwenn just to the north of Corbeau point.

The inscription fills the entirety of one of its sides and is mainly in capital letters but there are also pictures including a sailing boat. There are two dates, 1786 and 1787.

“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,” she said.

The rock is bathed by the sea. The image of the sailboat is so close to the foot of the rock that the waters touch it at high tide.

The only known part of the inscription is a relatively recent addition: the date 1920, engraved by a Russian soldier garrisoned there during World War I. Just in case there might be a link between this and the rest of the inscription, linguists in Russia were contacted but to no avail. It’s not a Cyrillic language/dialect and Russian does not appear to have anything to do with it.

The Champollion Mystery of Plougastel-Daoulas, named after the French Egyptologist Jean-Francois Champollion who translated the hieroglyphic inscription on the Rosetta Stone, runs through the end of November 2019. All submissions, analyses and research reports, will be analyzed by a jury of academics and a representative from Brittany’s archaeology department. The most plausible entry will receive a €2,000 award.

The municipality has already received more than a thousand emails. If you’d like to try your hand at solving this riddle, email .

9 thoughts on “Breton village offers reward to decipher mysterious stone inscription

  1. M’ha tirat un roc. Yerstey w’had a baree, gist ing oor hoane, Aar gentrize ware bibbern, aamzil cou no stoane. At by mizluck was ee-pit t’drive in. Ha deight ouse var gabble, tell ee zin go t’glade. Ch’am a stouk, an a donel; wou’ll leigh out ee dey. Th’ valler w’speen here, th’ lass ee chourch-hey –Elle a un cœur de roc!!! 🙁

  2. “Hereby, I Diozeevbio –with the grace of God– proudly take possession of the newly found land of ‘EUROPE’ and virtually all its inhabitants, on behalf of the Navaho council of…”

    D’oh! – of course, I forgot THIS! (…w/ trsl.)

    P.S.:Apart from all that, “An Alarc’h” (‘The Swan’) reports of the return from exile in England of the Breton prince Jean de Montfort (known as “The Swan of Montfort”) and his defeat of the French army under Bertrand du Guesclin in 1379.

    Cf. Alan Stivell, À l’Olympia, 1972. The lyrics are unfortunately a bit bloodthirsty :skull: , but there are indeed really cool new words, and also not so new ones as well:

    ‘weliou gwenn’ is a ‘white sail’ (Lat. ‘velum’), ‘tra mor’ (over seas), ‘pleg-mor’ (gulf) [cf. Gulf (of) Mec’hiko, πέλαγος (pélagos, ‘sea’)], ’emgann’ (combat), ‘tachenn-emgann’ (battle field) [disturbingly, dáʼákʼeh (in Navajo) also means ‘field’ or ‘dą́ą́ʼ (“food, corn”) +‎ -kʼeh (“place”)’] …

    BTW, as Navajo “coding” worked so well in WWII, why shouldn’t it have done so, back in the 18th century? 😆

    Eunn alarc’h, eunn alarc’h tre-mor (×2)
    War lein tour moal kastell Armor!

    Un cygne, un cygne d’outre-mer,
    au sommet de la vieille tour du château d’Armor !

    Dinn, dinn, daon! dann emgann! dann emgann!
    Oh! Dinn, dinn, daon! d’ann emgann a eann!

    Je vais au combat.

    Neventi vad d’ar Vretoned!
    Ha malloz-ru d’ar C’hallaoued!
    Dinn, dinn, daon! d’ann emgann! d’ann emgann! etc.

    Heureuse nouvelle aux Bretons !
    et malédiction rouge aux Français !

    Erru eul lestr, e pleg ar mor,
    He weliou gwenn gant han digor;

    Un navire est entré dans le golfe,
    ses blanches voiles déployées.

    Digouet ann otrou Iann endro,
    Digouet eo da ziwall he vro;

    Le seigneur Jean est de retour,
    il vient défendre son pays;

    D’hon diwall doc’h ar C’hallaoued,
    A vac’hom war ar Vretoned.

    Nous défendre contre les Français,
    qui empiètent sur les Bretons.

    Ken e losker eur iouaden,
    A ra d’an od eur grenaden;

    Un cri de joie part,
    qui fait trembler le rivage;

    etc. pp.

    Paotred Bro-C’hall lec’h ma kouezhint
    Betek deiz ar varn e c’hourvint.

    Là où les Français tomberont, ils resteront couchés
    jusqu’au jour du jugement.

    An diveradur eus ar gwez
    ‘Ray dour benniget war e vez !

    L’égout des arbres sera l’eau bénite
    qui arrosera son tombeau !

  3. Perhaps it’s in a military shorthand, like the Roman milestones. Or maybe it’s another one of those coded military messages for pigeon post but the writer got somewhat carried away, unlike the message 😁

  4. I’m a bit curious about how a Russian soldier came to be stationed in Brittany during WWI. I’m unaware of any such deployment. Was that garbled somehow and meant just after WWI? In 1920? There were enough refugees from the Russian revolution who ended up in France for that to seem plausible.

  5. I don’t have the expertise or resources to decipher the inscription. However, various articles suggest a possible connection to late 18th century artillery batteries.

    It occurred to me to follow that possibility it might be useful to know who served there, their geographic origins, language competencies, both their native tongues and those that they may have acquired during their lives. Do relevant military records exist?

    They could gives clues as to which languages they could draw upon for clear or encoded texts.

  6. Keep Paul Van Haver in mind (a.k.a. ‘maestro’, a.k.a ‘stromae’), and the practice of “Verlan”, where words are formed by switching the order in which syllables from the original word are pronounced. For example, ‘français’ becomes ‘céfran’.

    Some ‘verlan’ words, such as meuf, have become so commonplace that they were adopted in the ‘Petit Larousse’ and a doubly “verlanised” version was deemed necessary, so the singly verlanised meuf became feumeu; similarly, the verlan word beur, derived from arabe, has become accepted into popular culture such that it has been re-verlanised to yield “rebeu” :no:

    Back then, however, 18th century French prison slang was probably even worse:

    Apparently, between April and July in 1787 inmates died, some Spaniards -and other outcasts- had been doing something for 5 months, and Alvarez, Oscar Cloiver and others were “REZE”, and later in 1786 something happened (presumably, the text in question was chiselled).



    EKGE )
    ARPRIGILOd17(cross on top of a heart)87
    1786 ИE12

  7. I look at it and it reminds me of an Italian friend. He didn’t know English very well and was both terrible at grammar and writing in both languages. When he heard names of people he would write them as he would say them using Italian phonemes. In such a way Arthur would be Arur, not being able to distinguish the “th” in Arthur. Similar errors happen to English speakers who learned Spanish in Latin America and tried to pickup spoken European Spanish (Castillian). Where conozco (I know) is pronounced “conoco” for lack of recognition of the “z” as pronounced in Spain. In this context I could read “Necrolog” in GROCAR as a misconstruction of a foreign pronunciation. The line below could be rich in names. I would recognize, if I wanted to, VILA or VILLA, OSCAR, SYLAS, etc. I’m not an expert linguist, but it seems like the rock is a list of people dead or drowned (Arabic Ghragar for “GROCAR”?) with three of them showing the year, one with birth date (ne12 for born in 1712, two showing a special title or cross read as “T” and with different nationalities.

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