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Voynich Manuscript May Have Originated In the New World 170

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 KingOfBLASH ( 620432 ) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @08:43PM (#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...

  • by cjellibebi ( 645568 ) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @09:51PM (#46031885)
    Codex Seraphinianus [] 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.
  • The original "lorem ipsum" was De finibus by Roman philosopher M. T. Cicero []. has a translation of the famous passage into English.
  • by netsavior ( 627338 ) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @10:17PM (#46032027)
    It has entropy that has been widely regarded as too high to be gibberish... roughly equivalent to the Latin Vulgate Bible - 1 Kings []
    On the subject of it being a hoax... The Voynich is a parchment manuscript with many fold-outs, (center cut pieces of parchment were 10 times more expensive than a single leaf), and many expensive inks/dyes. It would have cost a small fortune to create at the time (several years salary for even a skilled bookmaker). If it is a hoax, it was a very well funded one, with no known purpose.
  • by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @10:32PM (#46032111) Journal

    I've written software specifically to do analysis on this manuscript. There are patterns in the formation of the words that show beyond any doubt that it is not a random collection of letters. There are some very specific rules that would take significant effort to generate the words. For example, Gordon Rugg's theory / technique of generating random words using a grid is absolutely, positively not correct.

    I'm certain that "words" in the manuscript do not represent words in the original language. They are merely chunks of ciphered text, which explains the unusually homogeneous word lengths, for one thing. I believe the length of the ciphered words is thus arbitrary and chosen by the person doing the ciphering. That also explains how word length and spacing can be perfectly justified and fit along the varied shape of images (consecutive lines must be different lengths to fit in the available space), yet the rules and patterns of the words still adhere even though the words appear to be of arbitrary length.

  • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @10:35PM (#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. []

    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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @11:47PM (#46032519)

    Wikipedia says [] "The book has been carbon-dated to the early 15th century (1404–1438)", yet it contains information about Mexico.

    This is possibly way more interesting than the text itself. I can think of a few explanations:
    1: Native Americans made books before Columbus arrived
    2: Knowledge of America existed in Europe before Columbus's first journey
    3: somebody predicted the invention of carbon dating and used an old blank book

    None of them appears to be very likely. #2 is supported by the vinland map (roughly same age), but that one too is controversial. What we do know is that vikings settled Greenland and the lack of timber made them to go Newfoundland to cut down trees, apparently regularly until the vanished from Greenland in mid 14th century. It's unknown if they had contact with Europe and Greenland is somewhat too far north to provide knowledge of central American plants.

    What if people travelled the world earlier than we normally expect. However for some reason the records are lost or never made. The age of exploration might not have been when the people learned of the existence of an outside world, but the time when they realized they were willing to invest in proper exploration. Later we learned stuff like Columbus was the one to figure out the earth is round, which is made up. The resistance to his journey was that he might not find land before reaching Africa (they didn't know the map), in which case the expedition would have starved to death before arriving. This was too great a risk compared to the price of the expedition.

    One interesting part of traveling the world is that a roman grave was examined a few years back in Sicily. Despite being around 1800-1900 years old it contained a man born in China. There is no records of the romans having contact with China. However clearly they must have had some sort of contact as the man arrived in Italy somehow. Maybe our history books are too quick to assume based on preserved records alone. Lack of existence of evidence is not the same as evidence of lack of existence.

  • by Jiro ( 131519 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @01:14AM (#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 [] 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 hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @01:36AM (#46033003) Journal

    Maybe its just me, but when I first saw the thing the first thought that popped into my head was "its an alchemy book" and the more I read about the thing? The more i lean towards that conclusion.

    I mean lets take a look at what we DO know from that time period, 1.- Alchemy was practiced by many court magicians at the time, 2.- Alchemy was also dangerous as its link with science made it awful close to heresy in the eyes of many of the clergy, also 3.- Competition was fierce, with many believing that lead into gold was possible the one who found that "method" would become legend, so because of this 4.- Secrecy was SOP for the alchemist, with the man that supposedly made the first air conditioning, Cornelius Drebbel, refusing to write down his method for doing so. Finally 5.- The court alchemist would be one of the few who would have the funds to afford such a book while also having both the knowledge of the natural world AND a reason to keep such knowledge secret.

    Given this and without any proof that would lead one to believe it was something else I still lean towards an "alchemist recipe book", written using a cipher now long forgotten. Given what we know about the times and about the level of detail (as well as the cost as you pointed out) I would say it would be the most likely source of the book.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @02:34AM (#46033309)

  • by operagost ( 62405 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @11:50AM (#46035785) Homepage Journal
    1 Corinthians 1:18

"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva