Voynich manuscript dated to early renaissance

voynichmanuscript.jpg Scientists have carbon-dated the Voynich manuscript, a puzzling and beautiful document covered in botanical and scientific drawings. Named for the Polish-American bookseller who acquired it in 1912, its undeciphered text and purported 15th-16th century origins have long been a matter of controversy. So just how old is it? According to the University of Arizona, the sample was dated to between 1404 and 1438, making it older than previously thought; it predates the Gutenberg bible, printed in 1453. The dating team, led by Greg Hodgins in the university's physics department, did not decipher the language, itself hand-written in elegant "alien characters" on many of the manuscript's pages. They used an accelerator mass spectrometer to detect traces of carbon-14, a rare radioisotope found in plants and animals. As the rate of decay is predicable after the plant or animal dies, the concentration of carbon-14 in a sample of organic material is an accurate indicator of age. Four samples, each measuring about 1 by 6mm, were taken from four different pages of the manuscript, according to the university, then cleaned and burned to leave only its carbon content for analysis. Inks on the document were also found to be consistent with colors available during the Renaissance, but it is not easy to date them. "It would be great if we could directly radiocarbon date the inks, but it is actually really difficult to do. First, they are on a surface only in trace amounts" Hodgins said in a press release. "The carbon content is usually extremely low. Moreover, sampling ink free of carbon from the parchment on which it sits is currently beyond our abilities. Finally, some inks are not carbon based, but are derived from ground minerals. They're inorganic, so they don't contain any carbon." The book is currently owned by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University. In 2004, one academic concluded that the text was meaningless gibberish. His prime suspect, Elizabethan fraudster Edward Kelley, would appear to no longer be in the frame. Photo: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University Press Release [UoA]


  1. If you want to read a really great story about the voynich manuscript, try PopCo by Scarlett Thomas. Actually Boing Boing ought to pay attention to Scarlett, she’s a happy mutant if there ever was one.

  2. I know the writing has never been deciphered, but does anyone know if the plants in the illustrations have ever been identified?

    1. The plants have not been identified. They have very little to do with real plants. They appear to be completely made up like the lettering and the bath slides of naked ladies and like the fold out cosmology section. All of it screams to me that it was the long labor of a very active imagination.

  3. You guys can’t make out the words? It says pretty clearly “You, Snig, have been chosen to embark on a quest of extraordinary danger and intrigue that will shape the fate of several worlds. You will swing from ropes a lot, find you’re unusually adept at punching people and get to kiss interesting attractive women. First steal this book…”

  4. I’m no expert on early bookmaking, but it seems to me that they’ve just dated the vellum (or rather, assigned a death date to the poor sheep), not the writing of the manuscript itself. So, if the vellum was made, and then left lying around for a while, it’s still possible that the manuscript was written later.

  5. Clearly this is a Renaissance-era copy of an Elven formulary left over from a much earlier age.

  6. I like Sherwood’s theory that it was the work of a child and that it could very well have been Leonardo Da Vinci at about eight-years old.

  7. I just can’t buy into it being a hoax. It makes sense for something like the Beale ciphers to be hoaxes: it’d take you an afternoon at most to fake them, and they were widely published from the start. But why in the world would anyone go to these insane lengths to make a document full of gibberish, and then try and keep it a secret. Remember, the early history of it is virtually unknown, it basically starts in the 17th century, 200 years after it was probably written. Presumably, if you wanted to do it as a hoax and fool people, you’d spread it as far and wide as you could. And again, it would have taken probably years of work to produce. The hoax theory just don’t make any sense!

    No, the text means something all right. Some (probably slightly mad) person or society invented a language, and this is all that remains. God, I really hope they crack it in my lifetime.

  8. The curious may compare, for amusement and edification, Codex Seraphinianus

    Also, author of:

    “completely made up…bath slides of naked ladies”

    should just kill himself.

  9. It looks a lot like art made by schizophrenics. There was an exhibition at the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore a few years back that included some amazingly detailed works, many of which included a lot of writing that meant nothing (to anyone but the artist). I was impressed by attempts to diagram and show the order of some inner and outer world, in ways that make no sense, but have a lot of thought and effort put into them.

    1. Yup-that’s what I have always thought the Voynich was-“Art Brut” by a mad monk alone somewhere or something similar. Take a generous enough amount of your favorite hallucinogen and a non-mad person may be able to “translate” it…. he he he o_O

  10. Ok, I like the last two explanations.

    There was one theory out there that said it might have been created by DaVinci as a child. The words are mostly stylized anagrams of Italian words for local plants with some mis-spellings. This is one of the more plausible but still dramatic stories of its origin. Its consistent with the carbon dating too.

  11. I’m fascinated with the way the word “hoax” comes up in discussions of the Voynich Manuscript, because as I understand it, it has never really been presented as anything other then it is, ie a cool, weird book that nobody can read.

    My assumption tends to be that the thing is a work of art.

    What do you call something like this? I mean an untranslated script for which there is only one known example? Eg the Codex Seraphinianus, the Phaistos Disc, the Rohonc Codex, etc.

    I’m curious about what the “etc.” might consist of, but it’s hard to think of a way to search for more things like the above. Most of the words that come to mind, like unique, or unreadable have popular metaphorical meanings, and there are lots of untranslated writing systems that still have numerous surviving texts.

  12. There’s an extensive article about the Voynich Manuscript in the Jan/Feb 2011 Issue of Skeptical Inquirer by Klaus Schmeh (encryption expert and member of the German skeptics organization GWUP)

  13. Too bad the linked Wired article is so poorly conveyed. I’m unconvinced it’s a hoax, but I’d like to hear more about Rugg’s findings.

  14. This lady
    may be on to something … but whether she is, it’s a very interesting read. Unlike almost everything else on the VM. Which Voynich bought a century ago next year.

    It’d be interesting to see the technology unleashed on the Archimedes palimpsest applied to the VM. It might pay off in many ways.

  15. My take on this, a little Occam’s Razor:
    I agree that it should be a fake language, if people depicted dresses in fashion of european XV century, it should have at least something in common with at least one european language written at that time, but that’s not the case, other interesting thing is some words are repeated at least 3 times consecutively. All this makes me think as an artificial language written by someone with a psychiatric pathology manifested as a kind of written neologisms in a language only known to that person’s mind. I have known patients that if you give them a pen and paper, they can write an incredible amount of incomprehensible words, related to their pathology. Do you really think those people sentenced to death by the church inquisition because of heresy, were real witches and wizards? Maybe they were schizophrenic or suffered epilepsy, psychiatric pathologies exist since we exist as humans, remember Caligula?

  16. So, this is a book containing pictures of creatures and plants that don’t exist; accompanied by text that no one can understand?

    Is it just me, or is this clearly the world’s first roleplaying game?

  17. I’d like to get the guy who decries this as a hoax and have him star in a movie, say a historical drama around the time of Rome during the 5 bad emperors… He’s practicing his lines, and too late finds out it’s a re-creation of a certain movie made by the late Bob Guccione… About the Emperor Gaius Germanicus Caesar… And he plays “The Groom”…!!!

    I truly hate intellectual snits like this. If they had balls they’d de-bunk major lies, but people have religions around those. So they go around hassling things like “paranormal” thinking it’s nothing but tinfoil hat people they can harass or at least have the police avenge them if someone shoves an “Atlantean Crystal Rod” where the sun don’t shine…

    Frankly, from looking at a few pages I’m sure the V script is genuine. I’ve looked into alchemy and it’s got too much symbolism in the images to be faked by a low end charlatan. And the high end “Charlatans” aka Cagliostro, Don Juan, perhaps not a Chralatan St. Germain would have put something for real in such a work…

    Looking at it, I have to turn away. I fear I’ll become obsessed with it. I think I could eventually figure it out, but IMO it’s not worth the time to me.

    IMO again, it’s just some long forgotten “Alchemist’s Journal”. He kept his notes in code so the “Good Christians” had less evidence to mutilate and kill him for. Once he died his secrets were lost with him. But, unlocking those “Secrets” would likely only reveal a bunch of the same “Alchemy” stuff that was already circulating around, not some revolutionary formula or mystic knowledge, etc.

  18. Okay, I’m an amateur cryptologist, and while the translation is nowhere near complete, I think I have several key versus down. Pending my publication, I won’t release all of the translated material, but I will give a sampling. Due to the differences of the languages being used, it may read “oddly”. Here goes:

    In A.D. 1476
    War was beginning.
    Captain: What happen ?
    Mechanic: Somebody set up us the bomb.
    Operator: We get signal.
    Captain: What !
    Operator: Main screen turn on.
    Captain: It’s You !!
    Cats: How are you gentlemen !!
    Cats: All your base are belong to us.
    Cats: You are on the way to destruction.
    Captain: What you say !!
    Cats: You have no chance to survive make your time.
    Cats: HA HA HA HA ….
    Captain: Take off every ‘zig’ !!
    Captain: You know what you doing.
    Captain: Move ‘ZIG’.
    Captain: For great justice.

  19. One of the plants in the illustrations that i reckognize is hemp-cannabis.
    I believe the manuscript is written for magical-plant thinking
    shamanism and such,where symbolism does the talking.
    But thats just one of many a opinion.

Comments are closed.