Village Offers Large Prize To Anyone Who Can Help Decode This 230-Year-Old Mystery

The past can hide a lot of things from the human eye. Dinosaur bones, ancient homesteads, and art long forgotten are just waiting to be unearthed. But some of these secrets are easier to explain and understand than others.
When a stone full of strange letters, symbols, and numbers was discovered in France, nobody had a clue about its origins or its meaning. To get to the bottom of the elusive message found in the small coastal town, experts concocted an unconventional way to get the best minds in the industry on the case…
Along the scenic coast of Brittany, France, lies a small town called Plougastel-Daoulas. It may not compare to Paris or Bordeaux, but it’s a town worthy of visiting if only for the secrets it holds.
While most tourists center their visit to Plougastel-Daoulas around the Musee De La Fraise, or the Strawberry Museum, on the town’s outskirts, a recent discovery is actually sending visitors closer to the port side.
While the beach is popular among both locals and newcomers due to the calm waters and the large variety of shells waiting to be unearthed from the sand, it’s also been guarding a century’s-old secret.
See, the difference in tides is quite strong in France; every 6 hours, a harbor can drain completely, and 6 hours later the bay will be flooded. Naturally, swimmers like to visit the beach during high tide, which is probably why the ebb didn’t reveal its secrets until May 2019.
Hiding there between the ordinary rocks on the side of the beach, swimmers found a cryptic message. Carved into the hard stone were what seemed to be letters, but certainly none from the French or English alphabets.
Plenty of historians and scientists have taken a closer look at it, yet, with all their knowledge, and the research tools available to them, they all reached the same conclusion: the inscription doesn’t belong to any known language.
“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. Still, he’s desperate for more information.
So far, the theories proposed by scientists haven’t been all that satisfying. One thought is that the language might have been coded on purpose. What if it was never meant to be understood by outsiders like us?
Even Michel Paugam, a French local councilor, has no clue what the writings could possibly say. The only hints are a drawing of a sailboat, a sacred heart, the Scandinavian letter Ø, and the numbers 1786 and 1787.
The last of those hints might actually aide in deciphering the mysterious rock. In the late 18th century, the area was home to several military operations. Could it be possible that they left the code to communicate in secret?
While that might be the case, all we know for now is that the rock was found close to Fort Corbeau, which was protected right around the inscribed dates along with the harbor. It is currently in ruins, but there may be more clues to find there.
Naturally, historians and locals alike immediately thought of another mysterious, engraved stone: the Rosetta stone, decoded by Jean-François Champollion back in 1822.
So, inspired by the famed French historian, the town launched an interesting scheme: they would hold a prized competition to decipher the rock, called “The Champollion Mystery at Plougastel-Daoulas” after Jean-François.
“We thought maybe out there in the world there are people who’ve got the kind of expert knowledge that we need,” one of the competition’s organizers said. “Rather than stay in ignorance, we said let’s launch a competition.” And the prize?
About $2,250 USD. The contest was set to end by November of 2019, but people will be working overtime to solve it. After all, the cash prize is nice, but it’s the honor of figuring out the meaning behind a historical artifact that really matters.
Still, it’s important to keep in mind that the Plougastel-Daoulas rock may not be solvable. Since there is no key for codes like this one, the answer may have died with the people who carved it.
And throughout history, there have been plenty of languages that even the smartest cookies haven’t been able to crack. For example, an early Greek script (nicknamed Linear A) is found on plenty of artifacts without anyone knowing what it means.
 If it never gets solved, well, it’ll just be one of the many magical mysteries of the world. But hey, with €2000 on the line, who knows? All around the world, people have committed their lives to solving mysteries like this one and earning massive rewards — including in the United States.
For example, a coded treasure map disguised as a poem in the Rocky Mountains has already had dozens of people pursuing some gold. Some even died for it, and it was all orchestrated by a man named Forrest Fenn.
The eccentric Forrest Fenn, an 87-year-old in Santa Fe, New Mexico, flew fighter planes in Vietnam. He taught himself archeology. He, along with his wife Peggy, dealt artworks and antiques out of a high-end gallery. Today, he receives 90 emails per day.
The emails don’t inquire about the exotic items in his personal collection (like a mummified falcon from King Tut’s tomb or Sitting Bull’s peace pipe, to name a few). They don’t ask about the paintings he’s sold, either. Instead, they ask about hidden treasure.
See, a few decades ago in 1988, Forrest faced mortality in a serious way. Diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer he wanted to leave his mark on the world in a meaningful way. So he plotted a crazy scheme: Bring treasure into the mountains and die beside it.
Amazingly, Forrest beat cancer so he shelved his treasure idea… at least for a few decades. On his 80th birthday, however, in the thick of an intense American recession, Forrest revisited the idea.
“Lots of people [were] losing their jobs,” Forrest recalled. “Despair was written all over the headlines, and I just wanted to give some people hope.” Treasure could be that hope. Who doesn’t secretly wish to find treasure and strike it rich?
Nick Cote / The New York Times
So the 80-year-old man loaded a 10-inch-by-10-inch Romanesque box into the back of his sedan and stuffed an estimated $2 to $5 million worth of jewels, trinkets, and gold coins into a backpack. Then, he started to drive…
He drove into the Rocky Mountains before parking his car and making two short trips on foot: One, where he carried the box to the hiding spot; another to bring the jewels to that box. He hid the 42-pound chest, but “don’t say I buried it,” he added, cryptically.
Curious treasure hunters now send him emails pleading for more information as to where the treasure might be. Sometimes, Forrest gives little hints, but most of the time, he lets the major clue he left behind do the talking…
Luis Sánches Saturno / The New Mexican
Forrest published the memoir titled The Thrill of the Chase, a book once found only in a single New Mexico bookstore. On page 132 of the memoir, he included a cryptic 24-line poem that points towards the treasure’s final hiding spot. It goes like this…
“As I have gone alone in there / And with my treasures bold, / I can keep my secret where, / And hint of riches new and old. / Begin it where warm waters halt / And take it in the canyon down, / Not far, but too far to walk. / Put in below the home of Brown…
From there it’s no place for the meek, / The end is ever drawing nigh; / There’ll be no paddle up your creek, / Just heavy loads and water high. / If you’ve been wise and found the blaze, / Look quickly down, your quest to cease, / But tarry scant with marvel gaze, / Just take the chest and go in peace…
So why is it that I must go, / And leave my trove for all to seek? / The answers I already know, / I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak. / So hear me all and listen good, / Your effort will be worth the cold. / If you are brave and in the wood / I give you title to the gold.”
Naturally, people were stumped by the poem, which Forrest insisted contains 9 distinct clues as to the treasure’s location. Dedicated communities pooled their resources, playing at Indiana Jones in the hopes they find the treasure.
As of July 2018, the treasure remained unfound. But the search wasn’t a zero-sum game for all adventurers and amateur travel hunters. For instance, Dal Neitzel of Washington, below, managed a TV station by day—but by night…
Dal made 70 trips to the Rockies over the years, searching for the treasure, and led a blog titled “The Thrill of the Chase” (sound familiar?), an online forum for people discussing the hunt. He, like many others, was thrilled by the adventure…
Another treasure hunter claimed clues from the poem guided her to the Christ of the Mines Shrine in Silverton, Colorado. She didn’t find treasure there. But, she found “the eternal love of Christ”— a spiritual treasure.
Meanwhile, the memoir that once sold for peanuts started selling for over $1,000 on Amazon. With such demand, Forrest started doing book signings, too. People wanted to comb through the book for insights into Forrest’s thinking—anything for the treasure.
Overall, Forrest estimated over 350,000 people went searching through the Rocky Mountains for his treasure. Unfortunately, not all of them lived to tell tales of spiritual re-awakenings and fun adventures…
Six people have died in pursuit of the Forrest Fenn treasure, including Randy Bilyeu, below. Authorities found his car, his raft, and his dog at the Rio Grande south of Santa Fe, but he never turned up. Eventually, the man’s death was blamed on Forrest…
New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas, below, pressured Forrest to end the treasure hunt. But Forrest never relented, reminding people the treasure was in a spot an 80-year-old man could get to in a sedan.
In fact, Forrest reminded hunters he ultimately hid the treasure to inspirefamily-friendly adventure. Kids “spend too much time in the game room or playing with their little handheld texting machines,” he said. The treasure—the hope—was for them, too.
“The search is supposed to be fun,” he said. To appease authorities he also noted that the treasure “is not underwater, nor is it near the Rio Grande River. It is not necessary to move large rocks or climb up or down a steep precipice.” Still, people are suspicious.
Forrest’s detractors claimed the hunt was nothing more than publicity for his memoir—the treasure, they say, never existed. The bookstore, however, claimed he never took a penny from sales. As to the treasure’s existence…
A friend of Forrest’s, New York Times best-selling author Doug Preston—who actually saw the treasure at Forrest’s house—put it best: “Knowing Forrest for as long as I have, I can absolutely say with 100 percent confidence that he would never pull off a hoax.”
Indeed, by all accounts, Forrest’s definitely the type of guy who would bury $2 million in jewels. “Sure, I’m eccentric,” he once said. “I pride myself on being eccentric. I don’t want to go down the center line like a lot of people do.”
And hunters better not hope for some deathbed confession from Forrest. “No one knows where that treasure chest is but me,” he said. Even his family remains in the dark. “If I die tomorrow, the knowledge of that location goes in the coffin with me.”
With all the fun and excitement around the hunt, Forrest admitted hiding the treasure was “successful beyond [his] wildest dreams.” But who will be the lucky person to finally find it?

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