Mysterious Medieval Manuscript is Probably Not a Hoax

The Voynich Manuscript has baffled everyone since it was first acquired (or, some say, forged) by collector Wilfrid Voynich in 1912.

Probably dating to the 15th century and originating in Northern Italy, the manuscript consists of 240 pages of vellum covered in a mysterious, indecipherable script and illustrations of non-existent plants, astronomical diagrams, tiny naked pregnant women, and other oddities.

The script has defied any attempt to crack it by either philologists or cryptographers, and the entire thing is usually written off as a hoax. I’ve never agreed with that, and assume the text has some meaning, even if it is the ravings of a lunatic Italian monk.

Now, computer analysis suggests that the writing is, in fact, an actual text with meaning ,and not mere gibberish.

The new study in Plos One by theoretical physicist Marcelo Montemurro and Argentina’s Damian Zanette brings more computerized statistical analysis techniques to bear on the text.

In looking at the frequency and patterns of various words and their distribution over the entire book, as well as their relationship to other words, the researchers focused on a “statistical signature” suggesting it’s not just gibberish.

“We show that the Voynich manuscript presents a complex organization in the distribution of words that is compatible with those found in real language sequences,” they write.

“We are also able to extract some of the most significant semantic word-networks in the text. These results together with some previously known statistical features of the Voynich manuscript, give support to the presence of a genuine message inside the book.”

Previous research has also shown that Voynichese is similar to real languages. What the words may mean, however, and whether they represent an encoded known language or a completely made-up one, is still up for debate.

My guess? It’s an esoteric or herbalist text in an encrypted invented language that may have only ever been understood by one man: the author. The lack of correlation between the plants in the manuscript and real plants may just be a novel and extended example of a kind of botanical grotesque.

Claims that it’s either a modern forgery or mere gibberish are unconvincing. Someone filled 240 sheets of valuable vellum with closely-written text and intricate art, indicating a labor that likely took years and showed some level of intelligence and skill. Even if it’s the work of a madman, it at least made sense to him.

Or maybe … you know …

 

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • http://www.parafool.com/ victor

    It could still be a case study in early-onset dementia, though? Like if the author had at one time been a very skilled herbalist and started losing it and was set up in a room with a stack of vellum just to keep him happy. It would be sad, though, if the author actually had produced some amazingly insightful and useful manuscripts on plants earlier in his life, but this was the only one of his works to survive.

  • http://shuffly.net/wp/ Don

    I wonder if the Voynich manuscript was one of the inspirations for The Face in the Frost.

  • Will Duquette

    Have you ever seen the Codex Serafinianus? Not ancient, but every bit as peculiar.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com/ Thomas L. McDonald

    I came across it for the first time this week. Really interesting example of how this kind of thing comes to be.


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