Sealed text, an unknown scripture – or meaningless nonsense?

Sealed text, an unknown script - or meaningless nonsense?

Both the text and the images of the Voynich manuscript give rise to numerous riddles

Voynich manuscript experts plan congress in Rome

The Voynich manuscript is a coded book from the 15th century.century, on which many a cryptologist has cut his teeth. Telepolis has already reported on this several times (The Voynich Manuscript: The Book Nobody Can Read, New Dating of the Voynich Manuscript Causes a Sensation). The 11. Congress held in May 2012 "Voynich 100" could help to steer the previously rather chaotic research in a more professional direction.

Sealed text, an unknown scripture - or meaningless nonsense?

Both the text and the images of the Voynich manuscript provide numerous guesses

When the antiquarian and collector Wilfried Voynich acquired some antique books from the stock of the Villa Mondragone in Frascati (a suburb of Rome) in 1912, he found an unusual work among them. It was a handwritten and handpainted manuscript, written in a script Voynich could not read. The numerous pictures did not tell him anything either. Many experts Voynich consulted could not make sense of the unknown letters and the strange drawings. To this day, no one has succeeded in erasing what has come to be seen as a "Voynich manuscript" to decipher the book.

In 1976 the first and so far only meeting took place, where Voynich researchers met to exchange information. The result of this meeting, which was attended by about ten people, was a booklet, now considered a classic, called "The Voynich Manuscript An Elegant Enigma", which was written by the cryptologist Mary D’Imperio. This summarizes the state of research at that time. Since then, a lot has happened in Voynich research. Due to the internet the ratsel-like book became more and more popular, whereby the number of publications on the subject exploded.

The current Voynich research culture is almost unbearable from the point of view of a scientist. In other scientific fields, researchers use peer-reviewed journals as a platform for sharing their findings. Works on the Voynich manuscript, on the other hand, appear mostly on the Internet or in self-published books – there is no quality control worth mentioning. And while scientists of other disciplines regularly meet at congresses, Voynich-interested people so far only carry out their discussions in internet forums.

As a result, it is now practically impossible to keep track of all the important contributions to the Voynich manuscript. An argernis are above all the innumerable pseudo-scientific works to the topic, in which the serious research essays are often lost. Thus, more than 20 people have claimed to have solved the Voynich manuscript – a "slogan" seems more implausible than the other. Even Auberirdische had to already serve as Voynich authors.

In view of this chaos, one wonders why the numerous Voynich researchers have not sat down at the same table for more than 35 years. This question was also posed by Voynich experts Claudio Foti, Michelle Smith and Rene Zandbergen. They decided to organize a Voynich Congress for the first time since 1976. This time, however, there were to be considerably more than just ten participants. As for the venue, the three did not have to think long: The congress was to take place in the Villa Mondragone, where Wilfried Voynich had opened the manuscript exactly 100 years before. So it was a good thing that today there are event rooms for rent at Villa Mondragone. As the title of the congress Foti, Smith and Zandbergen chose "Voynich 100" – in reference to the jubilee. The Voynich 100 is a non-commercial event, participation is free of charge. The actual congress will take place on 11. May take place and last only one day. On the following day, however, the participants will have the opportunity to exchange ideas without a fixed program.

For co-organizer Rene Zandbergen, it is important to have a high scientific level: "The Voynich 100 should not become a fantasy event where the most outlandish theories are presented. Rather, it will be about the progress that Voynich research has made in recent years." There are quite a few of them. Notably, the age of the guessing book is now known: A radiocarbon analysis, reported by Telepolis (Das ratselhafteste Buch der Welt), revealed a date of origin in the early 15th century. Century.

Nevertheless there are still more questions than answers. The author and the place of origin of the Voynich manuscript are as much in the dark as the history of the book in the first 200 years of its existence. Cryptologists are still guessing whether they are dealing with a coded text, an unknown script or meaningless nonsense. Rene Zandbergen is therefore certain: "There will be a lot of discussion at the Voynich 100. We will probably not solve the riddle, but there will undoubtedly be new insights."

Klaus Schmeh is a computer scientist and specialist in historical sealing technology. In his latest book "Not to be cracked" (Carl Hanser Verlag, 2012), the Voynich manuscript is also considered.

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