In 1924, a seventeen-year-old farmer, Emile Fradin, discovered an underground chamber that contained many mysterious artifacts. He did so while plowing a field on his grandfather's property in Glozel (near Vichy, in central France).
Word of this discovery reached Antonin Morlet, a Vichy surgeon and amateur archaeologist. Together, Morlet and Fradin soon unearthed thousands of artifacts at the site, including human bones, glass-covered bricks, tools, sculptures of hermaphroditic sexual organs, pebbles, and vases. Most mysterious of all were a series of ceramic tablets that bore strange inscriptions on them written in an unknown language.
A tablet bearing the Glozellian script
Morlet declared the site to be the most ancient in the world, but other archaeologists were suspicious. The bizarre nature of the Glozel finds, as well as their diversity (seeming to mix many styles), made them skeptical. In 1927, a commission appointed by the International Institute of Anthropology declared most of the Glozel artifacts to be fakes.
But the controversy didn't end. A later commission, organized in 1928 by Salomon Reinach, concluded that the finds were genuine. A series of arguments (both legal and scholarly) about the authenticity of the finds ensued.
During the 1970s various tests, including thermoluminescent analysis and radiocarbon dating, were used to date the Glozel finds. These tests yielded an age range from 700 ad
100. However, doubts still persisted, primarily because the Glozel finds were so unlike anything else from that region and time period.
In 1983, a new excavation began at Glozel, about 500 meters from the original site. This produced few artifacts, but a few stones bearing the mysterious Glozellian script were found. Supporters argued that this confirmed the authenticity of the site as a whole. However, the official report of the excavation concluded that the site was medieval, and that it had probably been enriched by forgeries.
The inscriptions still resist translation. Many scholars have noted a resemblance to the Phoenician alphabet. In 1982, Hans-Rudolf Hitz suggested they were of Celtic origin.
Links and References
- La Vache Qui Rit (May 20, 2010), BBC.
- Glozel, Wikipedia.
- "The mysterious discoveries at Glozel" (1990), in Fake? The Art of Deception, Mark Jones (ed.): 301-303.