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    Luis Miguel quality control operator of the Spanish publishing Siloe working on cloning the 'Codex Voynich' Yale University, in Burgos province on August 9, 2016.

    A Book No One Can Read: Mystery of 600-Year-Old Voynich Manuscript

    © AFP 2019 / CESAR MANSO
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    The Voynich manuscript is a medieval work written in the XV century by unknown authors. Researchers have tried to solve its riddle for several hundred years as the language of the manuscript is unknown. Some have even suggested that it was created by aliens.

    In August, Spanish publisher Siloé decided to release exact physical copies of the book to help scientists and enthusiasts who cannot access the original. Siloé plans to sell 898 reproductions, each at a price of 7,000 euros.

    Story of the Manuscript

    In 1912, Polish book dealer Wilfrid Voynich discovered a strange manuscript in ancient Villa Mondragone, a castle located in modern Italy. The text was written in a strange language that used very elegant letters. It was also decorated with numerous color illustrations of plants, people, natural phenomena and movements of celestial bodies.

    A page from the mysterious Voynich manuscript, which is undeciphered to this day.
    © Wikipedia /
    A page from the mysterious Voynich manuscript, which is undeciphered to this day.

    Inside the book, Voynich found a letter written by Czech scientist Jan Marek Marci, also known as Johannes Marcus Marci, who served as a doctor at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor. According to the letter written in 1666, the book belonged to the Emperor Rudolf II (1552-1612). The Emperor paid 600 ducats for the manuscript, which was around two kilograms of gold.

    Now it is believed that two to eight scribes worked on this manuscript for several years. According to separately conducted radiocarbon analysis and examination of the manuscript ink, the strange book was made in the period between 1404 and 1438.

    Attempts to Crack the Code

    Many researchers have unsuccessfully tried to decipher its language for centuries. For example, the first cryptologist of the US National Security Agency William Friedman made an attempt to solve the task in the last days of World War II. As a result, he concluded that the Voynich manuscript contains no anagrams, and its language is artificial — it was invented specifically for the book.

    A page from the mysterious Voynich manuscript, which is undeciphered to this day.
    © Wikipedia /
    A page from the mysterious Voynich manuscript, which is undeciphered to this day.

    Subsequently, there have been a lot of theories that the manuscript is a fake. Of course, such a possibility cannot be ruled out. Besides, its text is clearly not meaningless: it has a clear structure.

    There were also a number of theories regarding the language of the manuscript. Joseph Martin Feely claimed that the text was written in Latin and encrypted with a simple permutation of the letters. Another researcher John Stojko proposed in his book that the manuscript was written in the Ukrainian language, devoid of vowels, and Dr. Leo Levitov believed that this was one of the Creole languages. However, no expert was able to decipher the manuscript.

    Not Fake!

    In 2013, theoretical physicist Marcelo Montemurro from the Manchester University published a work, which supports the theory that the text of the Voynich manuscript is not a useless set of characters; it is really a kind of hidden message written in a forgotten language. Montemurro used one of the techniques designed to study the coding of information in the process of neurons' functioning — this method allows identifying important data even though it was unknown how to interpret it.

    A page from the mysterious Voynich manuscript, which is undeciphered to this day.
    © Photo : Public Domain
    A page from the mysterious Voynich manuscript, which is undeciphered to this day.

    Stephen Bax, a professor of applied linguistics at the University of Bedford, in 2014, introduced strong evidence that the Voynich manuscript cannot be a fake. He claimed that, as a result of his research, the text of this work coincided with the illustrations. For example, in the botanical section of the book, it was written exactly about the plants that were painted there, and, perhaps, their medicinal properties were also explained.

    Based on the illustrations, the researcher was able to identify some of the words repeatedly found in this manuscript. Thus, he decoded "Taurus constellation," "juniper," "coriander," "hellebore," "cornflower" and "black cumin."

    • A page from the mysterious Voynich manuscript, which is undeciphered to this day.
      A page from the mysterious Voynich manuscript, which is undeciphered to this day.
      © Wikipedia /
    • A page from the mysterious Voynich manuscript, which is undeciphered to this day.
      A page from the mysterious Voynich manuscript, which is undeciphered to this day.
      © Wikipedia /
    • A page from the mysterious Voynich manuscript, which is undeciphered to this day.
      A page from the mysterious Voynich manuscript, which is undeciphered to this day.
      © Wikipedia /
    • A page from the mysterious Voynich manuscript, which is undeciphered to this day.
      A page from the mysterious Voynich manuscript, which is undeciphered to this day.
      © Wikipedia /
    • A page from the mysterious Voynich manuscript, which is undeciphered to this day.
      A page from the mysterious Voynich manuscript, which is undeciphered to this day.
      © Wikipedia /
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    © Wikipedia /
    A page from the mysterious Voynich manuscript, which is undeciphered to this day.

    In addition, the professor suggested an interesting theory about the origin of the mysterious language. He believed that it was spoken by a small community, which did not develop its own writing system. Then, a group of intellectuals belonging to this culture created an alphabet, which consisted of elements from European, Middle Eastern and Caucasian writings, in order to preserve knowledge of their people about nature for future generations. However, quite possibly, this community disappeared when these people just started developing their writing system.

    In 2014, Brazilian professor Diego Amancio from the University of São Paulo used big data analysis to receive another confirmation that the Voynich manuscript is not a fabrication. The research showed that the structure of an unknown language coincides with the structures of modern ones.

    Amancio did not try to translate the text; he just combined the words into groups and analyzed the relationships between them, modeling an integrated network. As a result, he found that 90% of the text structure repeats the Bible and other well-known books.

    Despite of numerous researches, the Voynich manuscript still remains a mystery, succumbing to analysis, but never revealing the meaning of what is written in it.

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