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Geography Professor Conducts GPR Investigation
At Historic Village in Southern France
MAILED: April 12, 2002
EAU CLAIRE — The investigative work of a faculty-student research team from the geography and anthropology department at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire may help unravel some of the mysteries linked to Rennes-le-Chateau, a small town in southern France.
Harry Jol, professor of geography, and Ryan DeChaine, a senior geography major, recently collaborated with Robert Eisenman from California State University, Long Beach, to do a ground penetrating radar investigation at two sites within the ancient French town.
The town is linked with many traditions and mysteries associated with the Templar movement and its treasure, including, according to some documents, the possible location of the Holy Grail, Jol said.
"Ever since a parish priest became an unexplainably rich man during the restoration of the village's church in the late 19th century, treasure hunters have been searching for what some think could be one of several ancient lost treasures, perhaps the treasures of the Temple of Solomon or the treasure of Jerusalem, which was carried off by the Visigoths after they sacked Rome in 410 A.D.," Jol said.
Jol was asked to conduct the GPR investigation by Eisenman, a well-known researcher and director of the Institute for the Study of Judeo-Christian Origins. Jol previously collaborated with associates of Eisenman at the Cave of Letters in Israel.
"Eisenman is particularly interested in finding out if the Templar buried scrolls are at Rennes-le-Chateau, which is one of many theories about the area," Jol said.
UW-Eau Claire is among the premier GPR research institutes in the world, Jol said. The use of GPR makes it easier for archaeologists to find objects buried in the ground. Instead of digging and possibly destroying information, GPR uses radio waves to detect buried objects. It can detect and map buried archaeological sites in a safe, quick and non-destructive way, he said.
Two locations at Rennes-le-Chateau were surveyed: the Tour Magdala and the Church of St. Mary Magdala. Both were associated with rumors of information buried beneath their floors.
"This is not a treasure hunt for us. Our approach is if something is buried there, then let's find it," said Jol, who conducted the preliminary GPR investigation at the sites in April 2001.
The survey at the tower was carried out to image features that may be located beneath the tower floor or around its base. The survey at the church was carried out to map features that may be located beneath the church floor.
"Results indicate the tower is built on the local bedrock with possible surface and subsurface disruptions, which may indicate the possibility of a buried feature," Jol said. "It could be a rock used for fill or it could be a box of some kind."
At the church, images show a subsurface anomaly that may indicate a burial crypt, involving one but probably at least two sepulchers, he said.
DeChaine, Brainerd, Minn., plans to attend graduate school and pursue a career in the field of biogeography. The experience in France was an important opportunity to go outside the classroom and learn the essentials of field-based techniques in a geophysical science, he said.
"GPR in archaeology is a powerful tool in assisting archaeological recovery, and I was fortunate to apply the innovative technology in an actual field application," DeChaine said, adding that he gained skills such as making detailed measurements, forming a logical framework of survey events, writing detailed field notes and gaining technical competence using GPR. "Working with a diverse research team taught me the importance of personal conduct and communication, and how good skills in such areas allow a project to progress smoothly."
Jol returned to France this spring to confirm his findings, collect additional data and present them to government officials in an effort to obtain a permit to continue the research. He won't speculate on what his radar scans show or if the researchers might be solving the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau.
"I have no idea what's there. What we find is what we find. The next step is to get a permit to excavate," Jol said, adding that if the permit is granted, there are still the matters of funding, working out the claims process and forming a research team. The earliest digging might begin would be late summer.
The John and Carol Merrill Foundation sponsored the expedition, with support by UW-Eau Claire's Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, and Sensors and Software, a GPR company.
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: April 12, 2002