Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Voynich Manuscript is considered by scholars to be most interesting and mysterious document ever found. Written in the 15th or 16th century CE, it consists of approximately 240 vellum pages. Its content is mostly illustrations and its script, language and author remain unknown to this day.

This image from the manuscript is thought to represent a cosmological design. The Voynich Manuscript is named after Wilfrid M. Voynich, a Polish-American antique bookseller who acquired it in 1912.

There seems to be six distinct sections of the book, with each one reflecting its own unique style and subject matter. The first five sections contain at least one illustration per page. The last section contains only text.

The text clearly reads from left to right with the longer sections divided into paragraphs with some featuring "bullets" in the left hand margin. The ductus (which is the speed, care and cursiveness of the lettering) flows smoothly, indicating that the scribe did not pause frequently to refer or reflect, but rather understood the subject about which he was writing.

The manuscript has been studied by countless experts, including professional and amateur cryptographers. During World Wars I and II, British and American code breakers examined the documents and came up with nothing.

Most of the approximately 170,000 characters, or "glyphs" seem to be created using one or two simple pen strokes and together form about 35,00 words. Most of the text consists of approximately 20 to 30 unique characters along with several dozen additional characters that only occur once or twice each.

Statistical analysis reveals specific patterns in the text that are quite similar to natural languages. Some words are contained in only certain sections of the text while most appear in its entirety. Another interesting observation is that there very few repetitions in over 1,000 labels attached to the illustrations.

In 2009, C14 (Carbon 14) dating tests were performed on the manuscript by researchers at the University of Arizona. The results confirmed with 95% accuracy that it was created between 1404 and 1438 AD (CE).

Before Voynich found the manuscript, it was traced to a man named Jon Marci. In 1622, Marci wrote about the Voynich Manuscript in a letter to Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit priest and scholar from Rome. The letter, dated 1666, was still attached to the book when Wilfrid Voynich obtained it.

Some of the pages of the Voynich Manuscript show evidence of retouching. Some of the retouched areas are numbered in the image below.

However, some of the most intriguing parts of this mysterious document are the unknown plants and flora depicted in the images. There is no record of these plants ever existing on Earth, either in other writings or through fossils and archeological digs.

The distribution of the individual letters within the words is also very unusual. Some characters only occur at the beginning of a word while others only appear at the end, with some only occurring in the middle.

The manuscript is filled with all types of images, including botanical, figurative and scientific drawings washed with vibrant shades of green, brown, yellow, blue and red.

It was also thought that it was written in code. Codes from the 16th Century to present day were all derived from The Stenographica by Johannes Trethemius, Bishop of Shonheim. Trethemius was an alchemist who wrote in many of his secret manuscripts in code so as to prevent unauthorized access.

Although the majority of plant images are unidentifiable, this composite (shown below) illustrates three plants that have been identified.

Some of the images represent objects that are completely unknown. In other words, experts have not been able to determine whether they are organic or if they are a representation of some other type of object.

The alphabetic script seems to have between 19 and 28 letters and bear no resemblance to any English or European lettering system. There is evidence that more than one scribe worked on it and more than one language was used in the document.

As of 2005, the Voynich Manuscript is listed as item number MS 408 in the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale University. The first facsimile edition was published the same year.

Here is a set of three videos featuring an interview with Terence McKenna. The videos also feature a nice collection of images from the manuscript. You can view images in the videos and browse the additional images below.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

More Images