Is there any better mystery than one that seemingly can’t be solved no matter how much time, energy and resources are dedicated to it? Amelia Earhart‘s disappearance, the Oak Island Money Pit, the Tunguska Event, why the Mets traded Rusty Staub to the Tigers for Mickey Lolich — all great mysteries for which we may never have definitive answers.
In that vein is the puzzle inside an enigma wrapped within a conundrum that continues to be the Voynich Manuscript. Also known as MS-408 in Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, this 234-page book written in an thus-far unbreakable code has confounded experts for decades. Is it a medieval science book? Does it unlock mysteries of the universe? Or is it just an elaborate hoax?
I recently read this interesting article in Fortean Times about how the Voynich Manuscript underwent some detailed examination, including forensic tests. Then the other night, on Discovery Channel’s “Weird or What?” program they also had a segment dedicated to some of the same analysis.
The coolest part of the examination is that the carbon dating done by the University of Arizona on the Voynich places the vellum upon which it was written to have been produced between 1404 and 1438. Analysis of the ink also shows that it was applied to the paper within a short time after its creation.
From the Fortean Times article:
So what is the upshot of these objective tests? Well, the modern hoax theory has been ruled out, as has any “Humanist Hand” nonsense, and would-be cryptanalysts are able to rule out sophisticated Renaissance ciphers and a prori languages and look to the late mediæval period for possible culprits. Also that all the late 15th- and 16th-century theories are in trouble; and the pre-15th century ones have had to fall back on the fact that the late 14th and early 15th century were rife with forgeries produced to justify traditional, but undocumented, privileges, lineage, and qualifications.
One of the interesting points that the “Weird or What?” episode made was that just because it isn’t a modern or Renaissance hoax, doesn’t mean that the manuscript might not be a hoax. Apparently, it was quite a profitable business during that era to create and sell documents that seemed remarkable, and by creating a purely fictional text written with a fake code, it could be passed off as a genuine book of magical secrets and thus, be sold for a hefty sum. During the episode they demonstrate how this could be done with a little effort, replicating an “encoded” fraudulent document that looks strikingly like the Voynich Manuscript.
Of course, as a celebrated 14th-century manuscript, hoax or not, it’s still a valuable work. And still an awesome mystery.
The “Cocaine Mummies” episode of “Weird or What?” featuring the Voynich segment reruns on Discovery on Friday, May 15 at 9 p.m. Set your DVR!