[cryptography] Radiocarbon dating of the Voynich manuscript

David G. Koontz david_koontz at xtra.co.nz
Mon Feb 14 00:08:35 EST 2011

On 14/02/11 3:09 PM, Steven Bellovin wrote:
> http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-02-experts-age.html

Well that puts it out of the range of Roger Bacon, doesn't it?  Or does it?

For those of us who have wondered what the  Voynich manuscript is about
after seeing Chapter 23 of Kahn's book 'The Codebreakers' (2nd edition), the
page of the Voynich manuscript used as an illustration can be found here:
934KB, 4428 × 5609

David Kahn writes of it's history from 1666, consistent with the radio
carbon dating:

Mystery has beclouded the manuscript since its recorded history began.  That
was on August 19, 1666, when Joannes Marcus Marci, the highly respected
rector of the University of Prague, sent the book to his former teacher,
Athanasius Kircher, the most famous Jesuit scholar of his time.
Kircher had, three years earlier, published a book on cryptology and a
universal language, and had boasted of having solved the riddle of
hieroglyphics.  In a letter accompanying the book, Marci recalled that the
former owner of the book had sent Kircher a portion of the text for possible
solution.  To that work the owner "devoted unflagging toil...and he
relinquished hope only with his life.  But his toil was in vain, for such
Sphinxes as these obey no one but their master, Kircher.  Accept now this
token, such as it is and long overdue though it may be, of my affection for
you, and burst through it's bars, if any there be, with your wonted
success."  Bars there were, but Kircher, who never shrank from bragging of
what he thought were his successes, did not burst through them, for his
silence on this point is eloquent.


>From the article found in Physorg:

Currently owned by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale
University, the manuscript was discovered in the Villa Mondragone near Rome
in 1912 by antique book dealer Wilfrid Voynich while sifting through a chest
of books offered for sale by the Society of Jesus. Voynich dedicated the
remainder of his life to unveiling the mystery of the book's origin and
deciphering its meanings. He died 18 years later, without having wrestled
any its secrets from the book.


The book having apparently languished since 1666 in the hands of the Society
of Jesus, without further challenge.  There being purportedly providence to
show the presence of the manuscript at the court of Holy Roman Emperor
Rudolf II.  (The Kahn book).  Marci speculated apparently incorrectly that
the author was Roger Bacon, although you could ask if the work had been copied.

A commonly held belief of those who have attempted decryption since WWII is
that it may be an artificial language (Friedman via Tiltman).  There's a
Scotsman named George Dalgarno (1626-1687) accredited with being the author
of the first artificial language and contemporary until 1659 of John
Wilkins, a founder of the Royal Society and author of An Essay towards a
Real Character and a Philosophical Language.

There is anecdotal evidence of the scribes at the Library of Alexandria
being able to perform so accurate copies, that they could be substituted for
the originals being returned to the unwary owners in what ever language.
Even writing down a cipher or artificial language might be a remarkable feat
for an original author when you note high quality penmanship exhibited.
Worthy of the scribes at the Library of Alexandria.  Discounting the
manuscript being a copy seems premature.

There's nothing in the notes on Chapter 23 that point directly to a source
for the Marci reference.   The likely source one of the 20th century books
on the ciphers of Roger Bacon.  You could also speculate after reading the
chapter that Dr. John Dee may have had the skills to duplicate an earlier work.

Apparently Brigadier Tiltman collaborated with David Kahn on the subject.  T

(Pages 57, 58, brief mention)

There are one or two sites you can download fairly high res images of the
entire manuscript.


This one shows there are 10 pages of the document not available see MS
Folios. David Kahn claims 204 pages, with 28 lost.  Likely a difference in

There appears to be nothing new known about it's origin or contents other
than it not being produced or copied later than 1666.  The Wilkins/Dee
connection and computer analysis not performed by Friedman in the '60s are
likely avenues of further investigation.  While Dr. Dee introduced a sign
language for communicating to the deaf, Wilkins appears to have gone further
in 'philosophical language'.  The book could have originated shortly before
1666 and not been copied, should the idea for an artificial language not
have been plagiarized from Roger Bacon.

Personally I'd hold out for the author being John Ray (1627 to 1705), a
contributor to Wilkins book, an author on botany, zoology, and natural
theology and author of Historia Generalis Plantarum - 3 vols 1686, 1688 and
1704.  The Voynich manuscript perhaps containing earlier record of his
classification system.  Ray is the first to use the notion of species as a
term in biology and showed that tree rings record the passage of time.   His
admission to the Royal Society enabled by John Wilkins in 1667.

Answers require successful cryptanalysis.

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