The Voynich Manuscript and the Unexplained Files

By Gordon Rugg

I’ve just watched the feature about the Voynich Manuscript on “The Unexplained Files”.


If you’ve just encountered the Voynich Manuscript for the first time via that feature, here’s a quick overview of how most Voynich researchers actuallly view the evidence.

Between 1912 and around 2004 the general consensus was that the text of the manuscript was too bizarre to be a language, and too complex to be a hoax, leaving a code as the only remaining plausible explanation. However, ninety years of work by the world’s best cryptographers found no sign of a code.

I showed that in fact it was possible to produce a meaningless hoax as complex as the text in the manuscript, and showing many of the same statistical properties as accidental side-effects, using very simple technology – basically a card with three holes cut in it, and a big table of gibberish syllables. This made a hoax a simple, feasible explanation; there was no need to look for a super-code so sophisticated that the world’s greatest codebreakers had failed to find it, let alone crack it. Many Voynich researchers still think that there’s a code in there somewhere, and are continuing to look for it. I think that a code is by no means impossible, but not very likely; I think that a hoax is a simpler and more probable explanation.

The documentary mentioned the carbon dates, but those are not terribly helpful; it’s perfectly feasible that a hoaxer would use already-old vellum to make a hoax look more plausible, and old vellum was available in antiquity. (It’s also logically possible that the manuscript contains older text re-copied onto vellum made around 1420, but I don’t think anyone seriously believes that.)

The story has also been complicated by a recent paper by Montemurro & Zanette, which contains numerous unfortunate and serious errors and misunderstandings, which I’ve discussed at length in other articles on this site. I’ve included links to reviews by professionals in other relevant fields, who have been scathing.

So, the documentary didn’t exactly give a clear insight into current research, but its suggestion of an alien code was … interesting…. and it featured some nice photography.