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Unreadable Voynich Manuscript Carbon-Dated


The Voynich Manuscript is the kind of thing that people can easily get obsessed about. The book contains page upon page written in a strange script and containing even stranger illustrations. Brought to the world’s attention in 1915 by bookseller and former Polish revolutionary Wilfrid Voynich, it has defied all efforts to decode or understand its contents. So much so, that some have put it down as an outright fraud, perpetrated by Voynich or one of the other many owners of the book. It wasn’t until 2009, nearly a century since the book was brought to light, that researchers from the University of Arizona confirmed that the book is as old, in fact older, than originally thought.

Originally thought to have come forth sometime in the late 15th century, the Arizona team pushed that date back nearly 100 years to somewhere between 1404 and 1438. Because the pages were made of animal skin, the age could be accurately determined through carbon-14 dating, which uses the reliable atomic degradation of carbon-14 to accurately asses the age of materials. Further research at the University of Chicago found that the ink was added to the pages not long after, meaning that the pages did not simply sit around for hundreds of years before being used in the book.

Though the findings have successfully placed the book in genuine antiquity, it hasn’t given much insight in to the meanings of the bizarre letters and even stranger images of impossible plants and the apparent astronomical diagrams that correspond to nothing visible from Earth. It is still assumed to have something to do with alchemy, the psuedo-science that famously sought to turn base metal into gold and accidentally discovered things like gunpowder along the way, but little more can be guessed.

It’s a near certainty that the Voynich manuscript, if ever translated, will not yield great secrets and lost knowledge. Alchemy has been dismissed by and large as a crackpot concept. But the fact that it really is as old as presumed means that it has historical value, which usually trumps so-called “secret knowledge.” If this mystery is ever unraveled it will at the very least tell modern researchers and historians something of the author, or authors, that created a book so baffling that it has not yielded to prying eyes for over 500 years.

If you’re a would-be code breaker, you can find high-res images of each page from the manuscript over at Voynich Central.

(Science Blog via io9, image via Wikipedia)

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