November 08, 2012
The mysterious and centuries-old
Manuscript was written by an unknown author, illustrated with
bizarre, puzzling pictures and composed in a language that even the
best cryptographers can’t decode.
Now, Naked Science follows new
leads in the hunt for the author’s identity.
The Voynich manuscript, described as “the world’s most mysterious
manuscript”, is a work which dates to the early 15th century,
possibly from northern Italy. It is named after the book dealer Wilfrid Voynich, who purchased it in 1912.
Some pages are missing, but the current version comprises about 240
vellum pages, most with illustrations.
Much of the manuscript
resembles herbal manuscripts of the time period, seeming to present
illustrations and information about plants and their possible uses
for medical purposes. However, most of the plants do not match known
species, and the manuscript’s script and language remain unknown and
Possibly some form of encrypted ciphertext, 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.
As yet, it has defied all decipherment attempts, becoming a cause
célèbre of historical cryptology. The mystery surrounding it has
excited the popular imagination, making the manuscript a subject of
both fanciful theories and novels. None of the many speculative
solutions proposed over the last hundred years has yet been
The Voynich manuscript was donated to Yale University’s Beinecke
Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 1969, where it is catalogued
under call number MS 408 and called a “Cipher Manuscript”.