The Voynich Manuscript

The Voynich Manuscript is an ancient manuscript that nobody has been able to decipher. Gordon showed that the manuscript could easily have been produced as a meaningless hoax, with no code involved.

The Voynich Manuscript in brief:

  • Discovered by Wilfried Voynich in 1912
  • Bizarre illustrations, and text in an unknown script
  • Written on vellum carbon dated to about 1420
  • Resisted decipherment; nobody knew whether it was a code, an unknown language or a hoax
  • It appeared too strange to be a language, but too complex to be a hoax
  • Gordon showed in 2004 that it could have been hoaxed using low-tech methods

Why we tackled it

Gordon and Jo had developed a method called the Verifier approach, which was designed to find errors in experts' reasoning about difficult problems. We needed a case study on which to try out our approach.

The Voynich Manuscript was a good test case because it had been studied by expert codebreakers and linguists for ninety years, but had never been deciphered.

Gordon started with a "light" version of Verifier, and within a few weeks had found key mistaken assumptions in previous research. He also found a way of replicating the unusual features of the manuscript's text using low-tech ancient techniques.

His conclusion was that the Voynich Manuscript's key features could be explained as the products of a hoax that produced meaningless gibberish.

His work was published in the journal Cryptologia in 2004.

More information, links and resources

 

A page from the Voynich Manuscript