Typical. You wait ages for an explanation of the Voynich Manuscript and then, just like buses, two come along at once!
To quote from Wikipedia
"The Voynich manuscript is an illustrated codex hand-written in an unknown writing system. The book has been carbon-dated to the early 15th century (1404–1438), and may have been composed in Northern Italy during the Italian Renaissance. The manuscript is named after Wilfrid Voynich, a book dealer who purchased it in 1912.
The pages of the codex are vellum.
Some of the pages are missing, but about 240 remain. The text is written from left to right, and most of the pages have illustrations or
The Voynich manuscript has been studied by many professional and amateur cryptographers, including American and British codebreakers from both World War I and World War II. No one has yet succeeded in deciphering the text, and it has become a famous case in the history of cryptography.
The mystery of the meaning and origin of the manuscript has excited the popular imagination, making the manuscript the subject of novels and speculation. None of the many hypotheses proposed over the last hundred years has yet been independently verified. Many people have speculated that the writing might be nonsense.
The Voynich manuscript was donated by Hans P. Kraus to Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 1969, where it is catalogued under call number MS 408. A digitized high-resolution copy is also accessible freely at their website."
If you haven't checked out the high resolution copy online I urge you to do so. I saved it all and printed out a copy for myself and it does look rather nice. Alas it's on paper rather than vellum but hey, you can't have everything.
So, in 2013 the American Botanical Council published a paper in their journal HerbalGram explaining how the Manuscipt was Mexican in origin. To quote the conclusion
"We note that the style of the drawings in the Voynich Ms. is similar to 16th
century codices from Mexico (e.g., Codex Cruz-Badianus). With this prompt, we
have identified a total of 37 of the 303 plants illustrated in the Voynich Ms.
(roughly 12.5% of the total), the six principal animals, and the single
illustrated mineral. The primary geographical distribution of these materials,
identified so far, is from Texas, west to California, south to Nicaragua,
pointing to a botanic garden in central Mexico, quite possibly Huaztepec
(Morelos). A search of surviving codices and manuscripts from Nueva España in the 16th
century, reveals the calligraphy of the Voynich Ms. to be similar to the Codex
Osuna (1563-1566, Mexico City). Loan-words for the plant and animal names have
been identified from Classical Nahuatl, Spanish, Taino, and Mixtec. The main
text, however, seems to be in an extinct dialect of Nahuatl from central
Mexico, possibly Morelos or Puebla."
The appendices include putative identifications for many of the plants.
But what should cross my virtual desk but a press release from the Univeristy of Bradford.
Stephen Bax, Professor of Applied Linguistics, has just become the first professional linguist to crack
the code of the Voynich manuscript using an analytical approach.
The world-renowned manuscript is full of illustrations of exotic plants, stars, and mysterious human figures, as well as many pages
written in an unknown text.
Up until now the 15th century cryptic work has baffled scholars, cryptographers and codebreakers who have failed to read a
single letter of the script or any word of the text.
Over time it has attained an infamous reputation, even featuring in the latest hit computer game Assassin’s Creed, as well as in the Indiana
Jones novels, when Indiana decoded the Voynich and used it to find the ‘Philosopher's Stone’.
However in reality no one has come close to revealing the Voynich’s true messages.
Many grand theories have been proposed. Some suggest it was the work of Leonardo da Vinci as a boy, or secret Cathars, or the lost tribe of
Israel, or most recently Aztecs … some have even proclaimed it was done by aliens!
Professor Bax however has begun to unlock the mystery meanings of the Voynich manuscript using his wide knowledge of mediaeval manuscripts
and his familiarity with Semitic languages such as Arabic. Using careful linguistic analysis he is working on the script letter by letter.
“I hit on the idea of identifying proper names in the text, following historic approaches which successfully deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphs
and other mystery scripts, and I then used those names to work out part of the script,” explained Professor Bax, who is to give his inaugural lecture as a professor at the University later this month.
“The manuscript has a lot of illustrations of stars and plants. I was able to identify some of these, with their names, by looking at
mediaeval herbal manuscripts in Arabic and other languages, and I then made a start on a decoding, with some exciting results.”
Among the words he has identified is the term for Taurus, alongside a picture of seven stars which seem to be the Pleiades, and also the word
KANTAIRON alongside a picture of the plant Centaury, a known mediaeval herb, as well as a number of other plants.
Although Professor Bax’s decoding is still only partial, it has generated a lot of excitement in the world of codebreaking and
linguistics because it could prove a crucial breakthrough for an eventual full decipherment.
“My aim in reporting on my findings at this stage is to encourage other linguists to work with me to decode the whole script using the
same approach, though it still won’t be easy. That way we can finally understand what the mysterious authors were trying to tell us,” he
“But already my research shows conclusively that the manuscript is not a hoax, as some have claimed, and is probably a treatise on nature,
perhaps in a Near Eastern or Asian language.”
Find out more about his work at the University's Centre for Research in English Language Learning and Assessment (CRELLA) and also on his personal website www.stephenbax.net.
Professor Bax, who was recently awarded the 2014 TESOL International Distinguished Researcher Award for his work on eye-tracking and reading, will discuss this and other research at his inaugural professional lecture at the University’s Luton campus on Tuesday 25 February at 6pm.
So, two competing explanations for the Voynich Manuscript, the Bax one has not been published yet, I look forward to reading it and adding it to my library. I would say time will tell who is right but I suspect that time will simply add more explanations.