You have a Theory of your Own about the Voynich Manuscript?

That’s cool, but, frankly, I don’t want to hear about it anymore.

I used to give you the option —

use the contact form provided on this blog. If you outline your ideas there, I will turn them into a new post and publish them here.

but lately so much crud has come up, that I feel it’s simply a waste of my time to edit that stuff and respond to it, and it’s a was of my readers’ time to post it for them.

So, please go somewhere else. If you decide to use an existing thread to publish your theories, I’ll mock you and block you. (The contact form will remain open , but I won’t feel obliged to answer anymore if your stuff is too far out.)

Thank you for your understanding.

The Last Word Hasn’t Been Spoken

In 2009 the McCrone institute did what all Voynicheros had been longing for for the longest time: They performed a scientific analysis on the VM.

As had been the case with the high resolution pictures of the VM, it was hoped that this new enterprise would yield more insight into the VM — and like in that case, it served to generate some confusion.

(You can read an abstract of the McCrone analysis).

Part of the McCrone analysis was the carbon dating which had established that the sheep which donated their skin for the vellum bleated for the last time around the 1450’s, a result in line with previous assumptions based on the Sagittarius archer’s dress and crossbow, and assessment of the writing style of letters and numbers.

The part which concerns us here right now (and which has caused a considerable stir on the VM mailing list lately, only five years after its original publication ;-) is their survey of the ink composition. Having taken some twenty samples from various corners of the VM (regular, text, drawings, quire numbers and marginalia), they come to these conclusions:

  • (While the ink isn’t of uniform composition) … “We found no significant differences between the writing inks (for the main body – ev) and the drawing inks used throughout the document and tentatively conclude that the text and drawings were most likely created contemporaneously”
  • For the page numbers, for the quire numbers, and for the latin alphabet on f1r, three different inks were used, which are also different from the main body inks.

So far, this is in line with what had been assumed all along: The writing was done at the same stage as the drawings (possible with the colouring coming at a later time). Over the course of time, the VM had been disassembled and rebound (the discussion about this process can be found on the web), at which time the current page and quire numbers were added. The marginalia were also written after the main body of text, probably by a later owner of the VM.

The question of whether the marginalia were written at the same time as the rest of the document bears a large significance on the “fake” discussion which is currently on:

a) If both were written at the same time (with equivalent inks), it would stronly point to a fake, because it would be fairly unusual for the author to write marginalia in his own book — especially if, while the body was written in Voynichese, the maginalia are in latin letters.

b) If OTOH the inks were different, this would indicate a genuine book which went through various hands and had been annotated at various points in time.

At first glance, McCrone seems to support b), if it wasn’t for a small detail: Among the samples for the “main” body, there was also the notorious sample #16, which was taken from f116v — the very last page of the VM, with the “anchiton oladabas” marginalia.

So this seems to paint the following picture:

In a first phase, the main body of the VM with its Voynichese and the illustrations was drawn. This includes the marginalia on f116v. Only at a later stage the “pure latin letter” marginalia and the page/quire numbers were added.

So, interestingly enough, we end once more in a peculiar situation: While some parts of the marginalia point to a “genuine” MS, the biggest and most prominent piece of marginalia, the one on f116v, seems to have been applied with the rest of the writing, and would hint of a fake.

Scandinavia Hailing the Arabs

And another incoming message, this time from Peter Ole Kvint:

I would guess that the text is Berber. Berbers have had several writing systems but none of them to be suitable for writing with quill and ink.

When you consider how cookbooks copied today, then herbal books from middelaldren be copied copy. If you have a list of herbs from a book then most could be found in the illustrations. Or the options limited.
Since the patterns seen in other books, so it must be possible to retrieve the same recipes. And thus rediscover plant names.
Note that on some artwork, the plants are cut and put back together on the thicker root. These plants may be large, perhaps trees and shrubs.


Peter Ole Kvint

Period wordlists

Dan wrote already some time ago, and again I must apologize that I’m currently fairly busy with other projects, and hence can’t devote as much time to the VM as I should. Nevertheless, I finally should give him the floor:

Yeah yeah, here’s another theory. Actually I’m not going into the theory, but simply asking if you can provide any assistance in resources I am seeking. Let me back up a bit – I’m a full time software developer of over 20 years, and I have had some insights regarding the manuscript. I’ve written software to generate various statistics about the document and have found some surprising and very obvious (once distilled down to hard numbers) patterns that further validate the insights. These are not “hunches”, or “gut feelings” or any mystical, nutty stuff. It’s simply what it is, and the analysis doesn’t lie.

I am currently running brute force deciphering attempts using additional software I have developed, based on my theory of how the document is ciphered. The main resource I am lacking at this time are simply word lists of the candidate languages the manuscript may have been written in (in its decoded form of course), and specifically, the vernacular and spelling of those languages when the manuscript was written in the 1400s.

I have always assumed the Voynich manuscript was a hoax, but when it was positively dated a few years ago I took a harder look, again with the expectation that it was a hoax but at least a hoax contemporary to the 15th century. My attempt was actually to prove (just to myself) that very thing – that it is just a contrived hoax. Unfortunately the insights and analysis I have done over the last few years have left no other option but to follow the logical progression until it peters out and comes to a dead end. I have not yet reached that point.

Thanks for you time, and again, if you know of simple word lists (or who can provide them or assist in that) of good candidate languages from the 15th century, that would be quite helpful.

This question isn’t so easy to answer. First of all, even when taking the the C14 dating of the vellum as a given, we still have about a century of leeway regarding the actual production date of the manuscript. A century is a long time in which languages can change.

Secondly, languages weren’t “codified” as strictly as they are today, and pretty much everyone would write down their MSs in their local dialect, not to mention the fact that strict orthography wasn’t enforced yet either. Which means that even two people from the same region writing at the same time wouldn’t necessarily employ the same spelling. (An extreme example of this is the Bayeux Tapestry (admittedly predating the VM by some 400 years), where the name of William the Conqueror is written IIRC in not less than seven different manners.) Hence, to make a long story short, any word list should be taken with a grain of salt.

I did some statistics in the past myself, and to get decent wordlists I simply went to, downloaded a few works I considered representative of the era, and ran my own little wordcount scripts on these files.

IMHO, prime candidates for the plaintext languages are Latin, English, French, German (including the various dialects like Swiss), and perhaps Spanish. But though I wouldn’t bet on it, more exotic options like Hungarian, Finnish or maybe the Lingua Franca can’t be ruled out either.

Sorry, but this is probably as less simple answer than you asked for?

The Cuttest Critter

James recently asked me:

Just wondering what type of animal you think it is eating what is believed to be a Woad Plant on f25v

referring to this cute little critter.

I don’t think it’s supposed to be a real animal. My guess is it’s a little dragon; the scaly back, the comparatively short legs, the ears and comb on the neck, and the fact that it may only have two legs seem to be a good match for me. Compare here for the idea of a 15th century painter (Uccello) what a dragon is supposed to look like.


Lately, I received a brief message —

Censorship should be consistent

which I feel deserves a bit of comment because it represents a widespread, but false notion from the web. (I presume the missive didn’t allude to the general state of international politics, but referred to my decision to block some user comments on my blog.)

First of all, “censorship” means the suppression of information or opinion, usually through a public body. This is definitely not the same thing as deciding to ignore a contribution.

But, secondly and more importantly, you seem to feel you are entitled to using my blog for your messages. This is simply wrong, contribution here is a priviledge I grant (or withhold), as is the case with any private web page. My blog is not a public place to which anyone should have access, but a private BBQ I hold in my backyard. You are invited to drop by and share the party, but if you act inappropriately, I’ll kick you out, and, as the digital landlord, here I’m the sole arbiter to what constitutes appropriate behaviour. Simple as that. Play somewhere else.

Considering that I work for the maintenance of this site, that I’m legally responsible for the contents and that finally I’ll also be judged on the merits of the contributions here, I feel this is only fair. You’re free to go any other place, and party and voice your opinion there, and you will find I do nothing to hinder your free speech there. (That would be censorship.)

So while you’d be able to publicize on your own, you prefer to parasite from the infrastructure provided by me, insulting me with claims of “censorship” when I refuse to comply. This in itself should justify blocking your access.

“This conversation can serve no further purpose.”

A Plea to all Voynicheros

If you pursue a theory, please keep your website up-to-date.

As happened several times on the Voynich list during the last weeks, readers were encouraged to test other’s deciphering schemes based on publications on certain websites, but ran into dead ends or couldn’t arrive at the same results as the original poster. Only later or after complaining about this were they told that the information on the website was outdated.

This is impolite, cause it’s a waste of time on your readers’ part, it will make them irritated and discourage them to get seriously engaged with your theory, it will make them miss the point (of testing your theory), and it will do your reputation in general no good. So, it’s a win-win if you first update your website and then publicize it.