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Voynich Manuscript May Have Originated In the New World 170

Posted by Soulskill
from the good-to-know-which-side-of-the-atlantic-we-were-trolled-from dept.
bmearns writes "The Voynich Manuscript is most geeks' favorite 'indecipherable' illuminated manuscript. Its bizarre depictions of strange plants and animals, astrological diagrams, and hordes of tiny naked women bathing in a system of interconnected tubs (which bear an uneasy resemblance to the human digestive system), have inspired numerous essays and doctoral theses', plus one XKCD comic. Now a team of botanists (yes, botanists) may have uncovered an important clue as to its origin and content by identifying several of the plants and animals depicted, and linking them to the Spanish territories in Central America."
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Voynich Manuscript May Have Originated In the New World

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  • by immaterial (1520413) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @07:39PM (#46031317)
    I don't believe this. Botanists, really? And here I thought they were only good for fertilizing my plants. I'll have to stop composting them when I catch them prowling outside.

    If we find out they can do other sapient stuff, like make fire and use Facebook, I may start feeling guilty about the whole composting thing.
    • by game kid (805301)

      I will doubt your repentance until you also stop eating Girl Scouts without baking them into Girl Scout cookies first.

  • It's 500 pages, right?

    They needed a thick enough book to reach the cookie jar.

    • by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortex@@@project-retrograde...com> on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @03:07AM (#46033591)

      Textbooks in Academia are very often subject to the now normalized purposeful practice of being embiggened with useless redundancy and other such non essential and pointless filler to give them a high "thud factor" [wordspy.com], id est, a physical quality exhibited by a bound set of printed manuscript as its conversion of potential to kinetic energy -- most commonly expressed as free-fall -- ends abruptly upon colliding with the approximately parallel planar surface of a coffee table, desk or other such platform, such that the humanoid observer will cromulently valuate the manuscript as having a higher value due to this property being associated with other well respected volumes of physical information conveyance.

      Yes, this from your 'best and brightest'. Your race is doomed.

  • by KingOfBLASH (620432) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @07:43PM (#46031347) Journal

    According to TFA, plant names in Nahuatl (the language of the aztecs) have been identified.

    If indeed people who wrote it were writing in Nahuatl, and perhaps in a dialect, they may have needed to make their own script (since there was none around).

    So given time, perhaps it can be deciphered...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Sabbatic (3389965)
      That's not even remotely plausible. You can't develop a writing system overnight. The first and only thing surviving the invention of a writing system certainly wouldn't be a large codex. Such a work would also not be produced in a vacuum. Writing systems are developed with a future reading community in mind. They record things for posterity and allow for certain sort of communication that either need to be recorded or which are directed at people who are accustomed to writing. It's not plausible that every
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @09:20PM (#46032037)

        I think that some of your points are valid, but not this bit: "It's not plausible that everyone capable of reading the thing just died off without telling anyone." Given the impact of the Spanish conquest, I would say thay is perfectly plausible, morover it could have happened in a single generation. People don't seem to understand the impact of disease and slavery on the native American populations. Even educated people aren't going to have much time for reading between shifts in the salt mines, and when you're dead from smallpox you don't read much of anything. This thing could have been written for a tiny surviving readership, for posterity.

        • Not to forget that the spanish invaders burned everything which looked like scripts or writing believing it was written in 'devils tongue'.

      • by icebike (68054) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @09:35PM (#46032129)

        That's not even remotely plausible. You can't develop a writing system overnight.

        Well not over night, but it doesn't take that long. [kli.org]

        A Phonetic equivalence seems quite plausible, and you can whip up a phonetic equivalence chart for your private
        use, or the use of a small group in a few hours.
        And that might be the natural course of action for someone trying to document knowledge from an oral tradition.

        That this book didn't contain the key to the symbols is also not that unusual. Maybe this scribe needed to retain
        it for subsequent work.

        Western letters drawn with a quill certainly speaks to the possibility of early Spanish origins deliberately trying to
        encode information to be sent home such that it couldn't be used by just anyone. There may never have been more
        than a dozen who knew the key or the symbology. Maybe they and the key went down with a subsequent ship,
        even thought this book or perhaps a few others weren't on that boat.

        • Well not over night, but it doesn't take that long.

          A claim completely unsupported by your link.

          A Phonetic equivalence seems quite plausible, and you can whip up a phonetic equivalence chart for your private use, or the use of a small group in a few hours.

          That's probably true for your and me who have grown up with a phonetic system. I wouldn't think it to be true of someone who didn't grow up in a phonetic system and to whom the whole idea is new. The one historic example with which I'm familiar to

          • by cusco (717999)

            The Domincans created a Quechua/Spanish dictionary before Pizarro even reached Cusco, so it's not unreasonable. The dating is problematic though, unless perhaps it was created by the Portuguese or Venetian merchants that were suspected to have been using secret trade routs to bring rare items to Europe before the 'official' discovery of the Americas.

            • The Domincans created a Quechua/Spanish dictionary before Pizarro even reached Cusco, so it's not unreasonable.

              I didn't say it was unreasonable, I said the OP's contention that it could be whipped up in a short time was unreasonable.

              The dating is problematic though, unless perhaps it was created by the Portuguese or Venetian merchants that were suspected to have been using secret trade routs to bring rare items to Europe before the 'official' discovery of the Americas.

              Not believed by anyone not wea

              • by cusco (717999)

                There were maps of large sections of the coastline of the Americas extant in Europe and China well before the time of Columbus, including a globe (IIRC, from 1492) that showed the west coast of Mexico with Baja California and possibly San Francisco Bay. Interestingly many of the maps were accurate to within a degree or two of longitude. Magellan claimed to have a map showing the straight that bears his name, seemed to know that Tierra del Fuego was an island, and encountered a large shipwreck as he passed

                • Timbuktu possessed an enormous library, some of it supposedly salvaged from the Great Library of Alexandria, and was a trading partner of both Portugal and Venice although it had no sailing fleet of its own. It would actually be surprising if they hadn't carried out their own voyages of exploration.

                  Timbuktu is a landlocked city hundreds of miles from the ocean. No shit it had no trading fleet of it's own.

                  And you're a clueless moron.

      • by SpectreBlofeld (886224) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @10:00PM (#46032259)

        That's not even remotely plausible. You can't develop a writing system overnight.

        Sequoyah.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

        "In 1821 he completed his independent creation of a Cherokee syllabary, making reading and writing in Cherokee possible. This was the only time in recorded history that a member of a non-literate people independently created an effective writing system.[1][4] After seeing its worth, the people of the Cherokee Nation rapidly began to use his syllabary and officially adopted it in 1825. Their literacy rate quickly surpassed that of surrounding European-American settlers.[1]"

          So, yes, it's remotely plausible, in the sense that it's absolutely happened (at least) once.

        • by khallow (566160)

          So, yes, it's remotely plausible, in the sense that it's absolutely happened (at least) once.

          And it might even be the same sort of situation as Sequoyah. A native Aztec (or related dialect) speaker who can't read or write, but knows it is possible because the Spaniards could do it. So he or she creates a phonetic script and writes everything they can into the book.

          The methodical nature of the book, with its natural division into somewhat identifiable subjects could indicate it is a knowledge dump perhaps for a posterity that might forget the past. Or maybe it's a crazy person with an opinion fro

      • That's not even remotely plausible. The first and only thing surviving the invention of a writing system certainly wouldn't be a large codex.

        Funny because the fact that such a large codex survives, would seem to indicate that indeed it's possible for it to have happened.

        Writing systems based on an alphabet are, by definition, phoenetic. If you were to learn chinese, you'd probably use the roman alphabet to write down notes on how to spell it phoenetically.

        Given that there probably are not a whole lot of speakers of Ancient Aztec it stands to reason maybe a phonetic representation of Aztec wasn't something easily figured out. (Remember the Nava

        • by fatphil (181876)
          > Writing systems based on an alphabet are, by definition, phoenetic.

          Since when has "phonetic" completely changed meaning? Written English is based on an alphabet, but is not a phonetic language at all.
      • Ofc you can invent a writing system over night.
        Tolkien did plenty, and so did I as a child between 8 and 14. And I bet I was not a singular case. After 12 or 14 I however was more into simple encryption and 'secret codes'.
        However I get your point ... I was still stuck withe the idea that a single person invented this writing system for his own purpose (regardless of underlying language).
        I don't think that it necessarily would need to be an adaption of "one" script. A spanish scholar of that time might have

    • More likely the early Spanish simply used the Aztec names for plants, not having their own names for them yet.
  • Is it available as an Ebook?

  • by QilessQi (2044624) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @07:54PM (#46031437)

    Second image down:

    http://www.midorisnyder.com/th... [midorisnyder.com]

    Man, but medieval porn was tame.... :-)

  • What an unfortunate name for a (I presume) 'legit' botanical journal.

  • by cjellibebi (645568) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @08:51PM (#46031885)
    Codex Seraphinianus [wikipedia.org] is an encyclopaedia of an imaginary world published in 1981 and written in a similar style to Voynich, but the illustrations are much more surreal.
  • by Spy Handler (822350) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @08:54PM (#46031903) Homepage Journal

    I would've thought surely NSA could crack it by now....

    • by srmalloy (263556)

      After five hundred years, the likelihood that any of the terrorist plots outlined in the Voynich Manuscript have either been carried out or abandoned approaches unity; there's nothing in it that would be useful for extending control over the current population.

      • After five hundred years, the likelihood that any of the terrorist plots outlined in the Voynich Manuscript have either been carried out or abandoned approaches unity; there's nothing in it that would be useful for extending control over the current population.

        Everyone underestimates the Illuminati...

    • by jomama717 (779243)
      Looks like they took a crack at it, interesting read:

      The Voynich Manuscript: An Elegant Enigma [nsa.gov]
    • They weren't around back then to install a backdoor into the manuscript, or to pay off the writer to weaken the encryption.

  • by braindrainbahrain (874202) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @09:25PM (#46032059)

    I'm pretty sure that at least one plant was previously identified as American , and that would be the sunflower [unicamp.br]. These botanists have taken the idea a lot further though. Their paper is well researched, but I will leave it to the peer review process to ultimately determine its veracity. The identification of Nahuatl words in the script seems a bit of a stretch IMHO.

  • Not new (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dan East (318230) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @09:46PM (#46032183) Homepage Journal

    It isn't a new theory that the Voynich Manuscript is Nahuatl. Here's a book from 2001 positing that very thing:
    Keys for the Voynich Scholar: [google.com] Necessary Clues for Tahe Decipherment and Reading of the World's Most Mysterious Manuscript which is a Medical Text in Nahuatl Attributable to Francisco Hernández and His Aztec Ticiti Collaborators

    The botany side seems to further reinforce this existing theory, as opposed to originating it.

    • by Chalnoth (1334923)
      Interesting, but if it were from South America, shouldn't there be physical evidence in the manuscript itself, such as the makeup of the paper, that would identify it as originating there? After all, the manuscript has been dated to before Columbus' voyage, so it couldn't very well be a copy of New World writing. It had to either originate in Europe, and have no influence from the New World, or originate in the New World.
  • They compared the flora to the period of the manuscript's assumed appearance - about a century after contact. Knowledge travels fast (as do people). The manuscript could have been written anywhere Europeans had gotten themselves into.

    And we're talking the height of the Age of Exploration here.

  • by Jiro (131519) on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @12:14AM (#46032899)

    Googling up the American Botanical Council shows that
    1) they're unimportant enough that Wikipedia does not have an article aboutf them or their magazine
    2) They are not part of any professional botanical organizations
    3) Their facebook page calls them "Your source for reliable herbal medicine information" and shares links for organizatioins whose descriptions include phrases such as "holistic" and "alternative medicine".
    4) Their own homepage is clearly aimed at the herbal medicine crowd and even includes a disclaimer that "The information on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional". Their magazine is called HerbalGram, for pete's sake.

    I dare you to read their own site's news page at http://abc.herbalgram.org/site... [herbalgram.org] and conclude that they are anything but a bunch of alternative medicine crackpots whose belief about the Voynich Manuscript should be taken as seriously as their belief that it's worth giving a presentation at an aromatherapy conference.

    • by nadaou (535365)

      just because they may be alternative medicine crackpots does not mean that they are not experts in identifying exotic plant species. one might expect just the opposite actually.

      train your brain to avoid the ad hominem.

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Turns out it's an enormous long con to sell us all herbal viagra?

      Ha, "enormous long con".

    • by idunham (2852899)

      Looks like an herbal product trade group; that said, I'd hesitate to describe this particular one as "crackpots".
      I expect the "Botanical" would be better read as "Botanicals", which is very roughly "plants used for non-food purposes".
      That disclaimer is virtually mandated by US laws.

      Full disclosure:
      I'm an ag major who comes down on the side of conventional agriculture. While I was still at the university, I knew some people (professors included) interested in "alternative medicine", partly because of the res

  • It's the Perl of the dark ages.

  • A botanist was working on a journal, ran out of tobacco, and decided to smoke some of the odd plants he was writing about rather than merely illustrate them.

  • Sounds Roman.
  • I bought my house several years ago. At the time the basement had a lot of garbage in it but I was lazy and just left it lying there in the rafters. It wasn't until several years later I actually rented a dumpster and started cleaning. In amongst the old license plates, ancient signer sewing machine, and sheets of plate glass... I found it. A 12"x"12' piece of ancient looking wood. Dark grey in colour and very worn, like it had been sanded down. It was engraved with runic symbols or what I assume to be rune

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