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.

4 thoughts on “The Last Word Hasn’t Been Spoken

  1. Hi Elmar,
    With your permission I’ll post here a redacted version of my earlier vms mailing list post.
    I’m afraid the modern forgery camp is making a rather egregious reading of the word “contemporaneously”. They takes it to mean “made at the same time”. It means “made during the same era”, (ie definition) which is a very different proposition.

    In brief, iron was added to gall ink, depending on the recipe. It gives the ink the colour. Not enough ( low iron) and it fades. Too much ( high iron) and it goes rusty or changes colour. So the trick was to get the right amount of iron in the ink.

    It’s claimed that this is a “conclusion” of the report when actually the statement in question appears during the “examination” of the ink. The conclusions actually state that four types of inks are found (see more below).

    “The variability of the amounts of iron present is not unusual in iron gall inks. We found no significant differences between the writing inks and the drawing inks used throughout the document and tentatively conclude that the text and drawings were most likely created contemporaneously.” [emphasis mine]

    Ie, all inks in the sample could have been created during the time period in question in the same geographical region. There is nothing there to say early middle ages versus modern age, for example. No modern or ancient compounds have been found. The report does note that an unusual binding was used in all inks, which may not have been gum Arabia. This could be an important clue, if we find a region of Europe that did not have access to gum Arabia but instead used a different gum to bind their inks.

    Anyway, someone is attempting to use an abstract (it’s all generic European gall ink of the type used for centuries) to pin down an absolute (it all came from this ink well during this time period).

    The report does not, in any way, state any absolute about times or regions. It confines itself to generalities.

    NOW, what the forgery camp has missed is Conclusion bullet point 2 which would have better suited the argument. In brief, this outlines four types of inks used: text/drawing, page number, quire number and Latin alphabet on folio 1R. It does not distinguish sample (16), supposedly taken from the “Michtonese” text on folio f116r, as being a distinct type of ink from the main body of text.

    HOWEVER – there is a serious doubt about sample (16), first noted by Berj and independently later by myself. In short, the coordinates given do not correspond to any text on that page! The components list also notes that (no photograph recorded), and the explanation says that no photomicrograph of the sampling process was taken of this sample, and this sample alone. No explanation is given. Three possibilities occur to me:

    -The coordinates in the report are wrong but the sample did come from the Michtonese

    -The coordinates in the report are correct (but no text appears on that page in that coordinate so what is the sample of?)

    – The coordinates are correct, but the page number is wrong (it may have been taken from the previous page).

    Without access to the original file samples, this is another dead end that will only lead us into useless speculation. I will only mention that the report focuses on the “Latin alphabet” text on folio 1R but at no time mentions the text on f116r as being different, which makes me suspect the technician had only orders to take a sample from the very end of the book for sampling purposes, and later on doubt emerged about whether he had taken it from f116r or f116v.

    Another frustrating dead end looms.


    1. Hi David: You are welcome to your opinion, but not to your sophistry. The McCrone conclusion is far simpler and more obvious than you make it out to be. You have used the word “contemporaneously” in a broader sense than McCrone has, because we know how they used it, from the context of their entire paper, and their conclusion. You are attempting to use it to cover all iron gall inks, when in fact the conclusion in the report has already made clear which inks they feel are the same, and which ones are different from each other. And then, yes, also, that implies they were applied at the same time… “contemporaneously”.

      The fact that McCrone has already said there are no significant differences between the writing inks, which include both main text and f116v inks, and the drawing line ink, can be compared with their own conclusion that other iron gall inks… that of the page and quire numbers: Because they found the page and quire number inks are different from each other, and from the text/line/marginalia ink. If the case you claim for the text/marginalia/line inks was correct, they would have put the page and quire inks in with them, as being the same. That is, by your broader re-interpretation of the use of “contemporaneously”, they could have included the page and quire inks… but they did not. They were careful to make the distinctions. And in doing so, they further make it clear that they concluded the text/marginalia/line inks are the same.

      About this business of the missed coordinates on the last page… logically they gave reversed measurements, or made some other simple error, because it is clear they were speaking of text ink, and it is clear there is only one area of text on f116v: The marginalia. But you seem to reserve this as a “fail safe” claim… first claiming McCrone does not mean the ink of the marginalia is the same as the line and text ink; but if that argument is not accepted, one can fall back on this odd claim that they may have taken ink from… what?… a blank section of the page, so therefore they tested no ink at all? A smudge?

      No, the report and its conclusions are obvious, simple, and logical. The only way that it can be cast as anything but what it clearly says is to pick it apart, detail by detail, as you’ve attempted to do. But the conclusion stands for those who understand it: The main text, lines and marginalia inks of the Voynich are the same. THAT is what someone must explain, and where your attention should be placed if you accept the marginalia as real, but not in putting new and more palatable (to you) conclusions in McCrone’s mouth. Or, if you like, you can challenge their test, and challenge their conclusion, and say they are in error. But we know what they thought… it is right there in the paper, and your arguments do not change the simple and very valuable clue they gave us.

      1. … by the way, I should add, that acceptance of the “same ink” conclusions of the McCrone report are not solely owned by those who suspect the Voynich is a modern forgery. As you know, several very well established “1420 genuine herbal” researchers also acknowledge the McCrone “same ink” verdict as meant, and correct, as I do… only feeling that there is no problem with the marginalia having been added by the Voynich author, near the time it was made, and in the 15th century (a claim which raises its own troubling issues, as Elmar points out above). So here, as often happens, the genuine theorists disagree with one another, with explanations that are contrary to one another. So to assume you are only disagreeing with forgery theorists is incorrect… you have many genuine theorists to counter, also.

  2. Good points, Elmar… I would like to add a further speculation: That since McCrone has concluded the page and quire number inks are different than each other, and different than the text/line/marginalia ink, perhaps it would indicate not an added set of quire numbers, but an authentic, pre-existing set of quire numbers on blank vellum which was prepared for a book, and bound, but left blank until used by a forger.

    As for the page numbers, they have often been described as being added sometime after the binding, and other writing, so this fits the different ink in this case, too… whenever done, and by whomever.

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