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.