Monday, November 08, 2010
The most mysterious book on Earth
Thought to have been written in the 15th or 16th century and comprising about 240 vellum pages, nearly everything about the Voynich Manuscript is a mystery. No one knows who wrote it, when it was written, or why. The language it is written in is unknown, as is the script used to write it. Nearly every page is illustrated with images of herbs or zodiac signs but no one knows why they are there. The consensus is that it's a pharmacology book, but that is only a guess.
The tome is named for Wilfrid Michael Voynich, a bookseller from the early 1900s who came into its possession in 1912 and popularized its inherent mystery. Some even think the book is a hoax, intended by Voynich to defraud a purchaser. Voynich reportedly tried to link the book to Roger Bacon, one of the earliest advocates for the modern-day scientific method and one enamored of calendars and mathematics.
The manuscript has some characteristics that suggest it actually does mean something -- at least to the author. The text is written left to right with an irregular right margin, and the pen strokes used suggest that the author was writing something intelligible. The glyphs used to spell the "words" used are consistent throughout the manuscript and compose what appears to be an alphabet of twenty to thirty unique characters. These "words" follow rough rules of language -- some letters only appear with other letters; some letters appear only at the beginning or end of words. Some words are clustered around certain topics (as delineated by the illustrations). All of this, combined, suggests that the Voynich Manuscript's corpus consists of a cohesive discussion about something.
In 2009, University of Arizona researchers performed C14 dating on the manuscript's vellum, which they assert (with 95% confidence) was made between 1404 and 1438. In addition, the McCrone Research Institute in Chicago found that much of the ink was added not long after, confirming that the manuscript is indeed an authentic medieval document. However, these results have yet to be published properly, leaving room for continued speculation.
Full text scans of the book are available at Wikimedia.org
Posted by David Booker at 9:07 AM