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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 QilessQi (2044624) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @08:54PM (#46031437)

    Second image down:

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

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

  • Re:Is there an Ebook (Score:5, Informative)

    by Spiridios (2406474) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @08:54PM (#46031441) Journal

    Is it available as an Ebook?

    Yale [yale.edu] has digital scans and you can download the whole thing as a PDF.

  • by lgw (121541) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @09:01PM (#46031503) Journal

    I thought it was fairly conclusive that it wasn't a cypher - the symbols simply lack the entropy to represent language. It's just what you'd expect from someone combining a few symbols in nonsense ways as a hoax, and not statistically what cyphertext looks like at all. A bit disappointing, really.

  • by Sabbatic (3389965) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @09:32PM (#46031793)
    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 everyone capable of reading the thing just died off without telling anyone, and the book floated itself into the hands of Westerners. Moreover, if you look at the examples of writing systems developed relatively late in history, they are derived from existing writing systems for other languages. You don't just invent such things from scratch, unless it's a personal system, in which case it's really a cipher. Moreover, if the system weren't derived from that of another language, it would have to be inspired to some degree by native iconography. If either case were true, the thing would have been easy to decipher. If people claim that they have identified Nahuatl, that identification is only possible if the system is derived from earlier Nahuatl iconography, which as noted, would have made the interpretation quite easy long since, or it's some sort of phonemic transcription, which is something they could only have learned from another language community with a writing system in so short a space. In the latter case, the system would certainly have been adapted from that system.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @10:20PM (#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 new (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dan East (318230) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @10:46PM (#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 SpectreBlofeld (886224) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @11:00PM (#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 mbone (558574) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @11:48PM (#46032531)

    I thought it was fairly conclusive that it wasn't a cypher - the symbols simply lack the entropy to represent language. It's just what you'd expect from someone combining a few symbols in nonsense ways as a hoax, and not statistically what cyphertext looks like at all. A bit disappointing, really.

    That is wrong. The word entropy is similar to English [newscientist.com], and, while the second order entropy [ixoloxi.com] is low, it is similar to Polynesian languages.

    This is a nice nice review [isi.edu] of Voynich studies.

  • by FatLittleMonkey (1341387) on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @01:53AM (#46033091)

    3: somebody predicted the invention of carbon dating and used an old blank book

    You jest. But paper was expensive, scraping or cleaning and reusing paper, even whole books, wasn't uncommon.

    [More recent analogy is the BBC recording over classic TV shows to save money on video tape; now madly trying to find copies, even fragments, forgotten in old archives and basements at TV stations around in the world.]

    [[Or the current Canadian government's attitude to science libraries.]]

  • by cusco (717999) <brian.bixby@gmai l . c om> on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @01:58AM (#46033117)

    There was pre-Colombian contact, although perhaps not extensive. Central American and Alaskan jade show up in Chinese tombs of the 13th and early 14th centuries, and peppers from the Americas have been grown in Szechuan since ancient times.. IIRC, the Piri Reis map mentions Portuguese sailors visiting the territories shown on that map. A mummy in Paracas had TB, and another (in Tumbes?) had syphilis, both European diseases. Of course if you want to go further back the round stone heads of the Olmec show what are very clearly African faces, and black peoples were mentioned by Europeans when they arrived in Central America. Even further back the bottle gourd was cultivated in tropical South America apparently as soon as humans arrived in the area, and it has been an exclusively domesticated (as in, can't reproduce naturally) since at least 9,000 years ago.

  • It is post-Columbian (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dr La (1342733) on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @06:24AM (#46033929) Homepage
    The radiocarbon date of 516 +/- 18 yrs bp only dates the time of life of the goats who's skin was used for the parchment. It does not date the construction of the book persé. It was not unusual at that time to use old parchment.

    The manuscript contains several depictions that are clearly European: figures in European clothing, European equipment (e.g. a cross-bow) and some pages with Western (not indigenous American) constellations (e.g. Capricorn, the Balance).

    So it is very clear, if it indeed shows American plants, that it must be post-Colombian and old parchment was used.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @06:31AM (#46033955)
    You also forgot to mention that those 'discoveries' are subject to serious criticism (e.g. contamination) and are not as yet accepted science.

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