Category Archives: FRANCE

Deep in a Cave in France Neanderthals Constructed Mysterious Ring Structures 176,000 Years Ago

Deep in a Cave in France Neanderthals Constructed Mysterious Ring Structures 176,000 Years Ago

In February 1990, thanks to a 15-year-old boy named Bruno Kowalsczewski, footsteps echoed through the chambers of Bruniquel Cave for the first time in tens of thousands of years.

The cave sits in France’s scenic Aveyron Valley, but its entrance had long been sealed by an ancient rockslide. Kowalsczewski’s father had detected faint wisps of air emerging from the scree, and the boy spent three years clearing away the rubble. He eventually dug out a tight, thirty-meter-long passage that the thinnest members of the local caving club could squeeze through.

They found themselves in a large, roomy corridor. There were animal bones and signs of bear activity, but nothing recent. The floor was pockmarked with pools of water. The walls were punctuated by stalactites (the ones that hang down) and stalagmites (the ones that stick up).

Some 336 meters into the cave, the caver stumbled across something extraordinary—a vast chamber where several stalagmites had been deliberately broken. Most of the 400 pieces had been arranged into two rings—a large one between 4 and 7 meters across, and a smaller one just 2 meters wide. Others had been propped up against these donuts. Yet others had been stacked into four piles. Traces of fire were everywhere, and there was a mass of burnt bones.  

These weren’t natural formations, and they weren’t the work of bears. They were built by people. Recognizing the site’s value, the caver brought in archaeologist Francois Rouzaud. Using carbon-dating, Rouzaud estimated that a burnt bear bone found within the chamber was 47,600 years old, which meant that the stalagmite rings were older than any known cave painting. It also meant that they couldn’t have been the work of Homo sapiens. Their builders must have been the only early humans in the south of France at the time: Neanderthals.

Deep in a Cave in France Neanderthals Constructed Mysterious Ring Structures 176,000 Years Ago
Scientists take measurements for the archaeo-magnetic survey in the Bruniquel Cave, where they found near-circular structures made of stalagmites.

The discovery suggested that Neanderthals were more sophisticated than anyone had given them credit for. They wielded fire, ventured deep underground, and shaped the subterranean rock into complex constructions. Perhaps they even carried out rituals; after all, there was no evidence that anyone actually lived in the cave, so what else were the rings and mounds for?  

Rouzaud would never know. In April 1999, while guiding colleagues through a different cave, he suffered a fatal heart attack. With his death, work on the Bruniquel Cave ceased, and its incredible contents were neglected. They’ve only now re-entered the limelight because Sophie Verheyden went on holiday.

A life-long caver, Verheyden works at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, where she specializes in stalagmites. She treats them as time capsules, using the chemicals within them to reconstruct the climate of past millennia. So when she learned about Bruniquel Cave, while visiting the region on holiday and seeing a display at a nearby castle, she had only one thought: Why hadn’t anyone dated the broken stalagmites themselves?”

She knew that Rouzaud’s date of 47,600 years was impressive but suspect. Carbon dating is only accurate for samples younger than 50,000 years, so the Bruniquel material was hitting the technique’s limits. They could well have been much older. To get a better estimate, Verheyden assembled a team including archaeologist Jacques Jaubert and fellow stalagmite expert Dominique Genty. In 2013, they got permission to study the site and crawled into it themselves. “I’m not very big, and I had to put one arm before me and one behind to get through,” says Verheyden. “It’s kind of magical, even without the structures.”

After drilling into the stalagmites and pulling out cylinders of rock, the team could see an obvious transition between two layers. On one side were old minerals that were part of the original stalagmites; on the other were newer layers that had been laid down after the fragments were broken off by the cave’s former users. By measuring uranium levels on either side of the divide, the team could accurately tell when each stalagmite had been snapped off for construction.

Their date? 176,500 years ago, give or take a few millennia.

“When I announced the age to Jacques, he asked me to repeat it because it was so incredible,” says Verheyden. Outside Bruniquel Cave, the earliest, unambiguous human constructions are just 20,000 years old. Most of these are ruins—collapsed collections of mammoth bones and deer antlers. By comparison, the Bruniquel stalagmite rings are well-preserved and far more ancient.

And if Rouzaud’s work made it unlikely that modern humans built the rings, Verheyden’s study grinds that possibility into the dust. Neanderthals must have been responsible. There simply wasn’t any other hominin in that region at that time.

This 3D reconstruction reveals the stalagmite structures in the Bruniquel Cave in France.

Why did they build the rings and mounds? The structures weren’t foundations for huts; the chamber contains no stone tools, human bones, or any other sign of permanent occupation, and besides, why build shelter inside a cave? “A plausible explanation is that this was a meeting place for some type of ritual social behavior,” says Paola Villa from the University of Colorado Museum.

“When you see such a structure so far into the cave, you think of something cultural or religious, but that’s not proven,” adds Verheyden. Indeed, despite some fanciful speculations about cave bear cults, no one really knows.

Nor is it clear how the Neanderthals made the structures. Verheyden says it couldn’t have been one lone artisan, toiling away in the dark. Most likely, there was a team and a technically skilled one at that. They broke rocks deliberately and arranged them precisely. They used fire, too. More than 120 fragments have red and black streaks that aren’t found elsewhere in the chamber of the cave beyond.

They were the result of deliberately applied heat, at intensities strong enough to occasionally crack the rock. “The Neanderthal group responsible for these constructions had a level of social organization that was more complex than previously thought,” the team writes.

These discoveries are part of the Neanderthals’ ongoing rehabilitation. Since their discovery, scientists have tried to understand why they died out and we did not, with the implicit assumption that they were inferior in some important way. Indeed, to describe someone as a Neanderthal today is to accuse them of unsophisticated brutishness.

But we now know that Neanderthals made tools, used fire, made art, buried their dead, and perhaps even had language. “The new findings have ushered a transformation of the Neanderthal from a knuckle-dragging savage rightfully defeated in an evolutionary contest, to a distant cousin that holds clues to our identity,” wrote Lydia Pyne in Nautilus.

And now, we have Bruniquel Cave with its structures that are unprecedented in their complexity, antiquity, and depth within the darkness. We know that 400,000 years ago, some ancient hominins chucked their dead into a cave at Sima de Los Huesos, but there’s no evidence of the careful constructions in Bruniquel. There’s evidence of painting and sculpture within caves, but none older than 42,000 years. There are signs that Neanderthals used caves, but nothing to suggest that they frequently ventured deeper than sunlight.

“I think we have several lines of evidence showing that the cognitive abilities and behaviors of Neanderthals were complex,” says Marie Soressi from Leiden University. “But we had no direct evidence of their ability to build. That changes the picture for me. It’s puzzling to find such structures so deep inside the cave.”

To solve these puzzles, Verheyden wants to start cutting into the cave’s floor. It has been covered by layers of calcite, which may conceal specimens that hint at the chamber’s purpose. Verheyden also notes that the entrance they’ve been using cannot possibly have been the only one. “We’re crawling through this small thing and there are bear hollows in the cave. I don’t think the bears went in that way!” she says. “There must have been some other passage that collapsed.”

Discovered by chance 94 years on Bodies of 21 German soldiers in perfectly-preserved First World War trenches

Discovered by chance 94 years on Bodies of 21 German soldiers in perfectly-preserved First World War trenches

The bodies of 21 German soldiers entombed in a perfectly preserved World War One shelter have been discovered 94 years after they were killed. The men were part of a larger group of 34 who were buried alive when a huge Allied shell exploded above the tunnel in 1918, causing it to cave in.

Thirteen bodies were recovered from the underground shelter, but the remaining men had to be left under a mountain of mud as it was too dangerous to retrieve them.

Nearly a century later, French archaeologists stumbled upon the mass grave on the former Western Front in eastern France during excavation work for a road-building project.

Mass grave: The bodies of 21 German soldiers entombed in a perfectly preserved First World War shelter have been discovered in France 94 years after they were killed

Many of the skeletal remains were found in the same positions the men had been in at the time of the collapse, prompting experts to liken the scene to Pompeii.

A number of the soldiers were discovered sitting upright on a bench, one was lying in his bed and another was in the foetal position having been thrown down a flight of stairs.

As well as the bodies, poignant personal effects such as boots, helmets, weapons, wine bottles, spectacles, wallets, pipes, cigarette cases and pocketbooks were also found.

Even the skeleton of a goat was found, assumed to be a source of fresh milk for the soldiers. Archaeologists believe the items have been so well-preserved because hardly any air, water, or lights had penetrated the trench.

The 300ft-long tunnel was located 18ft beneath the surface near the small town of Carspach in the Alsace region of France.

Michael Landolt, the archaeologist leading the dig, said: ‘It’s a bit like Pompeii. Everything collapsed in seconds and is just the way it was at the time.

‘Here, as in Pompeii, we found the bodies as they were at the moment of their death. Some of the men were found in sitting positions on a bench, others lying down. One was projected down a flight of wooden stairs and was found in a foetal position.

‘The collapsed shelter was filled with soil. The items were very well-preserved because of the absence of air and light and water.

‘Metal objects were rusty, wood was in good condition and we found some pages of newspapers that were still readable. The leather was in good condition as well, still supple.

‘The items will be taken to a laboratory, cleaned and examined.’

Discovered by chance 94 years on Bodies of 21 German soldiers in perfectly-preserved First World War trenches
A drinks cup and the remains of a rifle that have survived almost intact for a century. Archaeologists believe the items have been so well-preserved because hardly any air, water, or lights penetrated the trench
Stuck in time: A German newspaper from 1918 lies partly preserved inside the shelter

Archaeologists also uncovered the wooden sides, floors, and stairways of the shelter. The dead soldiers were part of the 6th Company, 94th Reserve Infantry Regiment.

Their names are all known – they include Musketeer Martin Heidrich, 20, Private Harry Bierkamp, 22, and Lieutenant August Hutten, 37, whose names are inscribed on a memorial in the nearby German war cemetery of Illfurth.

The bodies have been handed over to the German War Graves Commission but unless relatives can be found and they request the remains to be repatriated, it is planned that the men will be buried at Illfurth.

The underground tunnel was big enough to shelter 500 men and had 16 exits. It would have been equipped with heating, telephone connections, electricity, beds, and a pipe to pump out water.

The French attacked the shelter on March 18, 1918, with aerial mines that penetrated the ground and blasted in the sidewall of the shelter in two points.

It is estimated that over 165,000 Commonwealth soldiers are still unaccounted for on the Western Front.

Helmet: Soldiers were discovered sitting upright on a bench, one was lying in his bed and another was in the foetal position having been thrown down a flight of stairs
Poignant: Personal effects such as this leather holster, boots, helmets, weapons, wine bottles, spectacles, wallets, pipes, cigarette cases and pocket books were found
Vintage: Bottle with stopper still in the top
Archaeologists uncover the buried shelter, which was attacked by the French on March 18, 1918, with aerial mines that penetrated the ground and blasted in the side wall of the shelter in two points
War: Germans in the trench

2,000-year-old remains of infant and pet dog uncovered in France

2,000-year-old remains of infant and pet dog uncovered in France

Excavations in France revealed an apparently well-off child and their pet dog that had been buried in the 2,000s BCE making this find over 2,000 years ago. The infant, believed to be a year old, was found in Aulnat in the Auvergne region of central France by a team surveying for a planned airport expansion.

The remains date back to the first century AD when France would have been under Roman rule.

They were accompanied by numerous objects — including clay jars, animal parts, and a small toy — as well as a puppy wearing a decorative collar.

2,000-year-old remains of infant and pet dog uncovered in France
The 2,000-year-old remains of an infant, estimated to be about a year old, were found in Aulnat in the Auvergne region of central France. The body was surrounded by a plethora of animal offerings and objects, suggesting they were of high social standing

‘Such a profusion of crockery and butchered items, as well as the personal effects that followed the child to his grave, underline the privileged rank to which his family belonged,’ according to the National Institute for Preventative Archaeological Research (INRAP).

This gravesite was discovered in December as part of preventive excavations carried out by INRAP before construction at Clermont-Ferrand airport.

Evidence of a wooden coffin was uncovered in the grave, surrounded by animal sacrifices including half of a pig, different cuts of pork and two headless chickens.

Twenty terra cotta vases and assorted glass pots in the grave may have contained medicine, cosmetics, or the child’s portion of the funereal banquet, while researchers believe a foot-long iron hoop attached to a bent metal rod was a toy or part of a game.

Archaeologists uncovered the burial site while surveying the area for a planned expansion at Clermont-Ferrand airport.

A baby tooth belonging to an older child was also found, possibly belonging to an older sibling.

The skeleton of a puppy was found at what would have been the base of the coffin, wearing a collar with bronze decorations and a small bell.

‘A dog’s association with a young child is well documented in a funeral context, but here it is the collar and bell that are unusual,’ according to archaeologists.

They call the discovery ‘exceptional’ and believe it’s the oldest child’s burial site discovered in France.

A wider view of the excavation site

It dates to the reigns of either Emperor Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD ) or Tiberius (14 -37 AD), just decades after the birth of Jesus.

In Roman-era Gaul — modern-day France, Belgium, and parts of western Germany — adults would have been cremated, but children were often buried on family lands.

Head archaeologist Laurence Lautier said the sheer number of offerings buried with the child was unusual.

‘In this type of tomb we often find one or two pots placed at the foot,’ Lautier told AFP. ‘Here there are around 20 as well as many food offerings.’

That denotes a high social class, Lautier said, ‘ a family that was clearly very rich.’

Since November, surveys of the area have turned up items from the Iron Age, High Middle Ages, and other eras. The digs are expected to end next month.

Scientist Finds Hidden Portraits Underneath “Mona Lisa”

Scientist Finds Hidden Portraits Underneath “Mona Lisa”

Forget everything you know about the most famous painting in the world: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (1503–17). According to French scientist Pascal Cotte, who has analyzed the painting by reflecting light technology for over 10 years, the Mona Lisa hides another portrait underneath.

According to the BBC, the most surprising of Cotte’s findings is that the sitter in the original painting found underneath has no trace of the enigmatic smile that elevated da Vinci’s portrait to the category of myth.

The sitter is also looking off to the side, rather than towards the viewer like the Mona Lisa we know and love today.

Light technology was used on the famous painting

Cotte’s pioneering technology is called Layer Amplification Method (LAM) and has allowed him to make a slew of groundbreaking discoveries. It works by projecting a series of intense lights onto an artwork while a camera measures the reflections.

Last year, he already made waves among the art historical community when he revealed that another da Vinci masterpiece, Lady With an Ermine (1489–90) was painted not in one, but in three clearly differentiated stages.

Pascal Cotte. On the left is a digital reconstruction of what he claims to have found underneath the Mona Lisa.

“The LAM technique gives us the capability to peel the painting like an onion, removing the surface to see what’s happening inside and behind the different layers of paint,” he told the BBC back then.

Crucially, this “new” Mona Lisa has ramifications also in terms of the identity of the sitter. For years and years, it’s been debated whether the woman in the painting might have been Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine silk merchant, da Vinci’s mother, or even a Chinese slave.

Cotte, complicating things even further, told the BBC: “When I finished the reconstruction of Lisa Gherardini, I was in front of the portrait and she is totally different from Mona Lisa today. This is not the same woman.”

Not everyone agrees with Cotte, however. Da Vinci expert Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of the History of Art at the University of Oxford, told the BBC: [Cotte’s images] are ingenious in showing what Leonardo may have been thinking about.

But the idea that there is that picture as it was hiding underneath the surface is untenable. I do not think there are these discreet stages that represent different portraits. I see it as more or less a continuous process of evolution. I am absolutely convinced that the Mona Lisa is Lisa.”

Cotte’s findings will be presented in a documentary called The Secrets of the Mona Lisa that will be broadcast on BBC Two.

The famous art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, who’s behind the documentary, said of the discovery: “I have no doubt that this is definitely one of the stories of the century.”

This could be the second claim in less than two weeks that changes common perspectives on celebrated artworks by da Vinci.

In late November, the notorious British art forger Shaun Greenhalgh publicly claimed to be the author of La Bella Principessa, a $150 million painting attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.

A $26M Cimabue masterpiece was found in an elderly woman’s kitchen

A $26M Cimabue masterpiece was found in an elderly woman’s kitchen

A missing masterpiece of the 13th century was sold for nearly 24.2 million Euros (26.8 million dollars), just months after it was found hanging in a French kitchen. “Christ Mocked,” by the Florentine painter Cimabue, sold for more than four times the pre-sale estimate at an auction in Senlis, north of Paris, on Sunday.

A $26M Cimabue masterpiece was found in an elderly woman’s kitchen.
“The Mocking of Christ,” believed to be by the late 13th-century Florentine artist Cenni di Pepo, also known as Cimabue.

An elderly French woman from the town of Compiegne had kept the rare artwork — which she thought was a Greek religious icon — in her kitchen.

The unsuspecting owner did not know where the 10-inch by 8-inch painting had come from, according to Jerome Montcouquil of art specialists Cabinet Turquin, which was asked to carry out tests on the painting following its discovery in the summer.

Leonardo da Vinci may have painted another ‘Mona Lisa.’ Now, there’s a legal battle over who owns it.

“It didn’t take long for us to see that it was an artwork by Italian painter Cimabue,” he told CNN prior to the sale. “He’s a father of painting so we know his work very well.”

Cimabue is the pseudonym of artist Cenni di Pepo, born in Florence around the year 1240. He is known to have been the discoverer and master of Giotto, widely regarded as one of the greatest artists of the pre-Renaissance era.

“There are only 11 of his paintings in the world — they are rare,” Montcouquil said.

Montcouquil said the work is part of a diptych made in 1280 when the artist painted eight scenes centered on the passion and crucifixion of Christ.

The style of painting, its gold background, and traces of its old frame helped experts identify the artwork as part of the triptych, according to a press release published by auctioneers Acteon ahead of the sale.

‘Lost’ Caravaggio valued at $170M bought just before the auction
The pictorial layer remains in “excellent condition” despite accumulating dust, continued the release.

The National Gallery in London is home to another scene from the work, “The Virgin and Child with Two Angels,” which the gallery acquired in 2000. It had been lost for centuries, before a British aristocrat found it in his ancestral home in Suffolk, according to AFP.

Another, “The Flagellation of Christ,” can be found at the Frick Collection in New York.

The “Apollo and Venus” painting by 16th-century Dutch master Otto van Veen (1556-1629) was discovered in the closet of an art gallery in Iowa and is likely worth over $4 million.

The “Apollo and Venus” painting by 16th-century Dutch master Otto van Veen (1556-1629) was discovered in the closet of an art gallery in Iowa and is likely worth over $4 million.

“They are all made with the same technique on the same wood panel so you can follow the grain of the wood through the different scenes,” said Montcouquil.

“We also used infrared light to be sure the painting was done by the same hand. You can even see the corrections he made.”

The painting had been hanging above a hot plate used for cooking food, according to AFP. Montcouquil said it was the first-ever Cimabue painting to be auctioned.

Child’s bones buried 40,000 years ago solve the puzzle of Neanderthal long-standing mystery

Child’s bones buried 40,000 years ago solve the puzzle of Neanderthal long-standing mystery

If it was a boy or a girl, we don’t know. But this ancient child, a Neanderthal, only made it to about two years of age. This brief life, lived about 41,000 years ago, was unearthed at La Ferrassie, a prominent archaeological site in southwestern France.

The remains of several Neanderthals have been found there, including the most recent discovery, the child, known only as La Ferrassie 8.

When the ancient remains were first found – most at various stages of the early 20th century – archaeologists had assumed the skeletons represented intentional burials, with Neanderthals laying their departed kin to rest under the earth.

Examining material from the 1970s excavations.

Nonetheless, in contemporary archaeology, doubts now swirl around the question of whether Neanderthals did indeed bury their dead like that, or whether this particular aspect of funerary rites is a uniquely Homo sapien custom.

In part, the asking of these questions links back to the archaeological techniques and record-keeping used in the past, as the antiquated methods used by archaeologists and anthropologists from the early 20th century (and even earlier) mean we can’t always be entirely confident in their findings.

With such a mystery on their mind, a team led by researchers from Le Centre national de la recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and the Muséum national d’histoire Naturelle in France has now conducted a thorough re-evaluation of La Ferrassie 8’s ancient remains, which have now been kept in the museum for almost 50 years after being discovered between 1970 and 1973.

“The discovery and context of this skeleton have generally been regarded as poorly documented, but in fact, this deficiency stems from a lack of the necessary processing of the information and materials from La Ferrassie related to the penultimate excavation phase (1968–1973),” the researchers write in their new paper.

“Indeed, a huge amount of data remained unassessed prior to our current study.”

In the new work, the researchers reviewed the notebooks and field diaries used by the original excavation team, as well as analyzing La Ferrassie 8’s bones. They also performed new excavations and analyses at the La Ferrassie cave shelter site where the child’s remains were found.

The results of their multi-disciplinary approach suggest that – despite the substandard nature of previous research into La Ferrassie 8’s purported burial – the old conclusions were correct: the child was buried.

Child's bones buried 40,000 years ago solve the puzzle of Neanderthal long-standing mystery
This reconstruction shows the Neanderthal child’s burial at La Ferrassie

“The combined anthropological, spatial, geochronological, taphonomic, and biomolecular data analyzed here suggest that a burial is the most parsimonious explanation for LF8,” the authors explain.

“Our results show that LF8 is intrusive within an older (and archaeologically sterile) sedimentary layer. We propose that Neandertals intentionally dug a pit in sterile sediments in which the LF8 child was laid.”

In reaching this conclusion, the team confirmed that the well-preserved bones were laid to rest in an unscattered manner, remaining in their anatomical position, with the head raised higher than the rest of the body, even though the lay of the land was inclined at a different angle (suggesting a contrived elevation by Neanderthal hands).

Further, there were no animal marks on them, which the team consider another probable sign of a prompt, intended burial. Especially when compared to the weathered state of various animal remains found in the vicinity.

“The absence of carnivore marks, the low degree of spatial disturbance, fragmentation, and weathering suggest that they were rapidly covered by sediment,” the researchers explain.

“We cannot find any natural (i.e. non-anthropic) process that could explain the presence of the child and associated elements within a sterile layer with an inclination that does not follow the geological inclination of the stratum. In this case, we propose that the body of the LF8 child was laid in a pit dug into the sterile sediment.”

It’s not the first study in recent times to claim new evidence of Neanderthals burying their dead, and it likely won’t be the last.

The French team says it’s time today’s new-and-improved analytical standards were brought to bear on the varying skeletal remains of La Ferrassie 1 through to 7, giving us an updated assessment of how they too were interred.

Then, maybe, with all said and done, these very old souls might finally get some rest.

Intact Roman Glass Vase Discovered in France

Intact Roman Glass Vase Discovered in France

According to the French National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Studies, an unusual vase from the late Roman period was uncovered in central France during the excavations of an ancient cemetery.

The archaeologist Michel Kasprzyk named it the “first complete specimen found to date in Gaul,” in a virtual press conference after its discovery, referring to the Celtic tribes that populated Western Europe during the 4th century and ultimately came under Roman rule.

The artefact is a diatretic vase, which means it is made from reticulated glass. Just 10 intact diatretic vases were ever recovered, according to Kasprzyk, the last of which was discovered in North Macedonia in the 1970s.

The glass vase recovered earlier this year in the French town of Autun is the first uncovered in the ancient territories of Gaul. It measures around 4.7 inches high and 6.3 inches in diameter, and is adorned with a message in relief reading “Vivas feliciter,” or “live happily.”

Deputy excavation manager Nicolas Tisserand said during the conference that for now, the piece will be “kept away from light, under drastic security conditions, before being studied and meticulously restored.”

Per a report in Le Figaro, the excavations were carried out from June to mid-September on the Gaul necropolis near Saint-Pierre l’Estrier, one of the oldest Christian churches in Burgundy.

Around 150 plots have been unearthed at the site, and they have led to the discovery of sandstone sarcophagi and lead and wooden coffins.

An array of precious gems, furniture, and jewellery have also been uncovered, including small gold earrings likely crafted for a child. 

“These exceptional and extremely rare discoveries are interesting avenues for the study of the aristocracy of Autun, precociously Christianized at the beginning of the 4th century,” said Kasprzyk.

The entire site, which includes an 11th-century basilica and monastery, has been under study by archaeologists and historians since the mid-1970s due to its rich repository of local and regional history. In 1979, the religious structure was designated a historic monument.

Carrier pigeon’s secret WWI message found over a century later

Carrier pigeon’s secret WWI message found over a century later

More than a century after it was dispatched by a German soldier, a message sent via carrier pigeon has been found by chance.

In September, a couple out for a stroll in the eastern French Alsace region came across a tiny aluminium capsule in a field.

Inside was the message, written in barely legible German on a kind of tracing paper.

The message appears to carry the date 1910, or 1916.

Dominique Jardy, curator of the Linge Museum, near where the discovery was made, thinks 1910 is more likely, Le Parisien reports (in French).

Describing the find as “super-rare”, he told the paper the capsule was likely to have come to the surface of the soil over time as have many militaries remains from the First World War.

The soldier was based in Ingersheim, then part of Germany but now in France.

The museum, in Orbey, commemorates the battle for the hilltop of Le Linge in the Vosges mountains in 1915 – one of the bloodiest encounters of the 1914-18 war.

The couple brought their find to the museum, where the message and its container will now become an exhibit.

Mr Jardy contacted a German friend to translate the dispatch, which was written in German Gothic script and details German military manoeuvres.