Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Voynich Manuscript – Centuries old secrets on the verge of being revealed in a real life piece of scholarship.

Going through the blogs I follow, I found that Paleobabble had a link to some new information about the Voynich Manuscript.  For those of you who are interested in esoteric texts or making props for movies or RPGs, this manuscript should be an inspiration.  I know the unraveling of a centuries old mystery certainly piques my interest.

The Voynich Manuscript has been known to the public for only a century although it appears much older.   This book contains fantastic drawings of people and animals and more tantalizing, a text in an unknown language and/or a secret code.  The Voynich Manuscript has been labeled as an outright modern fraud, a secret book of magic, a scholarly or artistic hoax and many other things in the popular press, the most specious link the Voynich Manuscript to Atlantis or space aliens.

Lately some scholars and amateurs have been taking a fresh look at the Voynich Manuscript by attempting to identify the fabulous plants illustrated.  Previously, experts insisted they did not resemble any plant seen by man on this planet.  The new investigators were not so sure.  They threw out all previous presumptions and returned to investigative bedrock, having botanists look at the drawings of the plants, often in historical artistic context of the 1500s.
What they found was that some of the plants could in fact be identified and were not alien species or fantasy items.  They were plants found in Central America about the time of the Conquistadors.  This new approach is exciting because it breaks new ground in attempting to decipher the Voynich Manuscript.  Once you had identified some of the plants, it was logical that the accompanying text would be a reference to the plant itself, thus linking a known object to a work group. 

This is not a new technique because by using comparison and association, linguists managed to translate languages that were previously unreadable to modern people.  The same thing happened when Coptic was used to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics.  The plants function as a visual Rosetta stone.  If you identify the plant pictured in the Voynich Manuscript, match it up to an Amerind language, then you have a lever to open up the text.   Previously the Mayan glyph written language could be read by using similar techniques.

This is not a full decipherment by any means and the tentative identification of plant/word associations in the Voynich Manuscript, while exciting will have to be followed up by years of scholarship and peer validation.  See the following articles:  http://m.prnewswire.com/news-releases/american-botanical-council-publishes-revolutionary-analysis-unlocking-mysteries-of-500-year-old-manuscript-241140041.html  and  http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/1689897#ixzz2sH68WeEh 
Botanist Arthur Tucker and information technologist Rexford Talbert have managed to identify 37 plants depicted as plants from the Americas, notably in Mexico. They similarly identified six animals and one mineral. They also have identified several plant names in the text as being written in Nahuatl, a Native-American language from modern day Mexico. The calligraphy of the manuscript bears resemblance to the calligraphy of another 16th century Mexican Codex, the Codex Cruz-Badianus from 1552.

The original article in The Herbal Gram is Preliminary Analysis of the Botany, Zoology, and Mineralogy of the Voynich Manuscript  by Dr Arthur Tucker and Rex Talbert  which is about their findings in their botanical attack on unlocking the secrets of the Voynich Manuscript.  The original article can be found in full here:  http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue100/hg100-feat-voynich.html
The Voynich Manuscript is now safely housed at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.  You can view images of the Voynich Manuscript here:  http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/ciencia/esp_ciencia_manuscrito07a.htm

I've always loved unusual and old manuscripts and seeing The Voynich Manuscript beginning to give up its secrets is exciting.  I hope you will follow some of the links and explore the articles.