Related: The Vonich Manuscript , Yale University Press, , the first authorized copy of this mysterious, much-speculated-upon, one-of-a-kind, centuries-old puzzle. Order from Yale University Press here. Written in Central Europe at the end of the 15th or during the 16th century, the origin, language, and date of the Voynich Manuscript—named after the Polish-American antiquarian bookseller, Wilfrid M. Voynich, who acquired it in —are still being debated as vigorously as its puzzling drawings and undeciphered text.
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The Voynich manuscript is an illustrated codex hand-written in an unknown writing system. The vellum on which it is written has been carbon-dated to the early 15th century — , and it may have been composed in Italy during the Italian Renaissance. The text is written from left to right, and most of the pages have illustrations or diagrams.
Some pages are foldable sheets. None of the many hypotheses proposed over the last hundred years has been independently verified. The codicology , or physical characteristics of the manuscript, has been studied by researchers.
The manuscript measures The total number of pages is around , but the exact number depends on how the manuscript's unusual foldouts are counted. From the various numbering gaps in the quires and pages, it seems likely that in the past the manuscript had at least pages in 20 quires, some of which were already missing when Wilfrid Voynich acquired the manuscript in There is strong evidence that many of the book's bifolios were reordered at various points in its history, and that the original page order may well have been quite different from what it is today.
Radiocarbon dating of samples from various parts of the manuscript was performed at the University of Arizona in The results were consistent for all samples tested and indicated a date for the parchment between and The parchment was created with care, but deficiencies exist and the quality is assessed as average, at best.
Some folios are thicker than the usual parchment thickness, such as folios 42 and The goat skin  binding and covers are not original to the book, but date to its possession by the Collegio Romano. Many pages contain substantial drawings or charts which are colored with paint. Based on modern analysis using polarized light microscopy PLM , it has been determined that a quill pen and iron gall ink were used for the text and figure outlines; the colored paint was applied somewhat crudely to the figures, possibly at a later date.
The ink of the drawings, text and page and quire numbers have similar microscopic characteristics. Energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy EDS performed in revealed that the inks contained major amounts of iron, sulfur , potassium , calcium and carbon and trace amounts of copper and occasionally zinc. EDS did not show the presence of lead, while X-ray diffraction XRD identified potassium lead oxide , potassium hydrogen sulphate and syngenite in one of the samples tested.
The similarity between the drawing inks and text inks suggested a contemporaneous origin. The blue paint proved to be ground azurite with minor traces of the copper oxide cuprite. The white paint is likely a mixture of eggwhite and calcium carbonate , while the green paint is tentatively characterized by copper and copper- chlorine resinate; the crystalline material might be atacamite or another copper-chlorine compound.
Analysis of the red-brown paint indicated a red ochre with the crystal phases hematite and iron sulfide. Minor amounts of lead sulfide and palmierite were possibly present in the red-brown paint. Computer scientist Jorge Stolfi of the University of Campinas highlighted that parts of the text and drawings are modified, using darker ink over a fainter earlier script. Evidence for this is visible in various folios, for example f1r , f3v , f26v , f57v , f67r2 , f71r , f72v1 , f72v3 and f73r.
Every page in the manuscript contains text, mostly in an unidentified language, but some have extraneous writing in Latin script. The bulk of the text in the page manuscript is written in an unknown script, running left to right.
Most of the characters are composed of one or two simple pen strokes. Some dispute exists as to whether certain characters are distinct, but a script of 20—25 characters would account for virtually all of the text; the exceptions are a few dozen rarer characters that occur only once or twice each. There is no obvious punctuation.
Much of the text is written in a single column in the body of a page, with a slightly ragged right margin and paragraph divisions and sometimes with stars in the left margin. There are no indications of any errors or corrections made at any place in the document. The ductus flows smoothly, giving the impression that the symbols were not enciphered ; there is no delay between characters, as would normally be expected in written encoded text.
Only a few of the words in the manuscript are thought to have not been written in the unknown script: . Whether these bits of Latin script were part of the original text or were added later is not known.
Various transcription alphabets have been created to equate the Voynich characters with Latin characters to help with cryptanalysis,  such as the Extensible originally: European Voynich Alphabet EVA. Friedman in the s, where each line of the manuscript was transcribed to an IBM punch card to make it machine readable. The text consists of over , characters,  with spaces dividing the text into about 35, groups of varying length, usually referred to as "words" or "word tokens" 37, ; 8, of those words are considered unique "word types".
The distribution of letters within words is also rather peculiar: Some characters occur only at the beginning of a word, some only at the end, and some always in the middle section.
Many researchers have commented upon the highly regular structure of the words. The things we know as 'grammatical markers' — things that occur commonly at the beginning or end of words, such as 's' or 'd' in our language, and that are used to express grammar, never appear in the middle of 'words' in the Voynich manuscript. That's unheard of for any Indo-European, Hungarian or Finnish language. Stephan Vonfelt studied statistical properties of the distribution of letters and their correlations properties which can be vaguely characterized as rhythmic resonance, alliteration or assonance and found that under that respect Voynichese is more similar to the Mandarin Chinese pinyin text of the Records of the Grand Historian than to the text of works from European languages, although the numerical differences between Voynichese and Mandarin Chinese pinyin look larger than those between Mandarin Chinese pinyin and European languages.
Practically no words have fewer than two letters or more than ten. Few repetitions occur among the thousand or so labels attached to the illustrations. There are instances where the same common word appears up to three times in a row  see Zipf's law.
Words that differ by only one letter also repeat with unusual frequency, causing single-substitution alphabet decipherings to yield babble-like text. In , cryptanalyst Elizebeth Friedman described such attempts as "doomed to utter frustration". The illustrations are conventionally used to divide most of the manuscript into six different sections, since the text itself cannot be read.
Each section is typified by illustrations with different styles and supposed subject matter  except for the last section, in which the only drawings are small stars in the margin. The following are the sections and their conventional names:. Five folios contain only text, and at least 28 folios are missing from the manuscript. The overall impression given by the surviving leaves of the manuscript is that it was meant to serve as a pharmacopoeia or to address topics in medieval or early modern medicine.
However, the puzzling details of illustrations have fueled many theories about the book's origin, the contents of its text, and the purpose for which it was intended.
The first section of the book is almost certainly herbal , but attempts have failed to identify the plants, either with actual specimens or with the stylized drawings of contemporaneous herbals. The herbal pictures that match pharmacological sketches appear to be clean copies of them, except that missing parts were completed with improbable-looking details.
In fact, many of the plant drawings in the herbal section seem to be composite: the roots of one species have been fastened to the leaves of another, with flowers from a third. The basins and tubes in the balneological section are sometimes interpreted as implying a connection to alchemy , yet they bear little obvious resemblance to the alchemical equipment of the period. Astrological considerations frequently played a prominent role in herb gathering, bloodletting , and other medical procedures common during the likeliest dates of the manuscript.
However, interpretation remains speculative, apart from the obvious Zodiac symbols and one diagram possibly showing the classical planets. Much of the early history of the book is unknown,  though the text and illustrations are all characteristically European.
In , University of Arizona researchers performed radiocarbon dating on the manuscript's vellum and dated it between and It has been suggested that McCrone Associates found that much of the ink was added not long after the creation of the parchment, but the official report contains no statement to this effect. The first confirmed owner was Georg Baresch , a 17th Century alchemist from Prague.
Baresch was apparently puzzled about this " Sphynx " that had been "taking up space uselessly in his library" for many years. His letter to Kircher is the earliest confirmed mention of the manuscript that has been found to date.
Whether Kircher answered the request is not known, but he was apparently interested enough to try to acquire the book, which Baresch refused to yield. A few years later, Marci sent the book to Kircher, his longtime friend and correspondent. Marci also sent Kircher a cover letter in Latin, dated August 19, or that was still attached to the book when Voynich acquired it:       . This book, bequeathed to me by an intimate friend, I destined for you, my very dear Athanasius, as soon as it came into my possession, for I was convinced that it could be read by no one except yourself.
The former owner of this book asked your opinion by letter, copying and sending you a portion of the book from which he believed you would be able to read the remainder, but he at that time refused to send the book itself.
To its deciphering he devoted unflagging toil, as is apparent from attempts of his which I send you herewith, and he relinquished hope only with his life. But his toil was in vain, for such Sphinxes as these obey no one but their master, Kircher. Accept now this token, such as it is and long overdue though it be, of my affection for you, and burst through its bars, if there are any, with your wonted success.
Raphael, a tutor in the Bohemian language to Ferdinand III, then King of Bohemia, told me the said book belonged to the Emperor Rudolph and that he presented to the bearer who brought him the book ducats. He believed the author was Roger Bacon , the Englishman. On this point I suspend judgement; it is your place to define for us what view we should take thereon, to whose favor and kindness I unreservedly commit myself and remain. The "Dr. Raphael" is believed to be Raphael Sobiehrd-Mnishovsky ,  and the sum would be about 2 kg of gold.
While Wilfrid Voynich took Raphael's claim at face value, the Bacon authorship theory has been largely discredited. Jacobus may have received the book from Rudolph II as part of the debt that was owed upon his death. No records of the book for the next years have been found, but in all likelihood, it was stored with the rest of Kircher's correspondence in the library of the Collegio Romano now the Pontifical Gregorian University.
The new Italian government decided to confiscate many properties of the Church, including the library of the Collegio. Beckx's private library was moved to the Villa Mondragone , Frascati , a large country palace near Rome that had been bought by the Society of Jesus in and housed the headquarters of the Jesuits' Ghislieri College.
In , the Society of Jesus Collegio Romano was short of money and decided to sell some of its holdings discreetly to the Vatican Library. The sale took place in , but not all of the manuscripts listed for sale ended up going to the Vatican.
In , the manuscript was inherited after Wilfrid's death by his widow Ethel Voynich , author of the novel The Gadfly and daughter of mathematician George Boole. She died in and left the manuscript to her close friend Anne Nill.
In , Nill sold the book to antique book dealer Hans P. Kraus was unable to find a buyer and donated the manuscript to Yale University in , where it was catalogued as "MS ",  sometimes also referred to as "Beinecke MS ". The timeline of ownership of the Voynich manuscript is given below. The time when it was possibly created is shown in green early s , based on carbon dating of the vellum.
The commonly accepted owners of the 17th century are shown in orange; the long period of storage in the Collegio Romano is yellow. The location where Wilfrid Voynich allegedly acquired the manuscript Frascati is shown in green late s ; Voynich's ownership is shown in red, and modern owners are highlighted blue.
According to the letter, Mnishovsky but not necessarily Rudolf speculated that the author was 13th century Franciscan friar and polymath Roger Bacon. The assumption that Bacon was the author led Voynich to conclude that John Dee sold the manuscript to Rudolf. Dee was a mathematician and astrologer at the court of Queen Elizabeth I of England who was known to have owned a large collection of Bacon's manuscripts.
Gerard Cheshire. The Voynich manuscript, folio 67r. Image credit: Beinecke Library, Yale University. Voynich, who acquired it in , is a small book Nearly every page of the manuscript contains scientific and botanical drawings in various shades of green, brown, yellow, blue, and red. The vellum used in the book was carbon dated to
The mysterious Voynich manuscript has finally been decoded [UPDATED]
Voynich manuscript , illustrated manuscript written in an unknown language and thought to have been created in the 15th or 16th century. It is named after antiquarian bookseller Wilfrid Voynich, who purchased it in Scholars and scientists have sought to decipher the text since the manuscript was first discovered. The Voynich codex measures The manuscript is divided into six sections based on the illustrations since, as of yet, the language has not been deciphered : botany , astronomy and astrology , biology , cosmology , pharmaceutical , and a section of continuous text with decoration marking the beginning of short entries thought to be recipes.
Has Voynich Manuscript Been Decoded? Mysterious Book May Be Written in Proto-Romance Language
All rights reserved. The Voynich Manuscript, a small unassuming book stored in a Yale University vault, is one of the most mysterious books in the world. The precious document containing elegant writing and strange drawings is believed to have been written six centuries ago in an unknown or coded language that has never been cracked. A pair of Canadian codebreakers may have deciphered a year-old book that has been baffling cryptologists for centuries.
UPDATE : Scholars have started to debunk these claims about the Voynich manuscript, noting that the translation "makes no sense" and that a lot of the so-called original findings were done by other researchers. Read our article about the debunking here. Since its discovery in , the 15th century Voynich Manuscript has been a mystery and a cult phenomenon. Full of handwriting in an unknown language or code, the book is heavily illustrated with weird pictures of alien plants, naked women, strange objects, and zodiac symbols. Now, history researcher and television writer Nicholas Gibbs appears to have cracked the code, discovering that the book is actually a guide to women's health that's mostly plagiarized from other guides of the era.