The Strange Quest to Crack the Voynich Code

Jillian Foley in Undark:

IT’S AN APPROXIMATELY 600-year-old mystery that continues to stump scholars, cryptographers, physicists, and computer scientists: a roughly 240-page medieval codex written in an indecipherable language, brimming with bizarre drawings of esoteric plants, naked women, and astrological symbols. Known as the Voynich manuscript, it defies classification, much less comprehension.

And yet, over the years a steady stream of researchers have stepped up with new claims to have cracked its secrets. Just last summer, an anthropologist at Foothill College in California declared that the text was a “vulgar Latin dialect” written in an obscure Roman shorthand. And earlier in the year, Gerard Cheshire, an academic at the University of Bristol, published a peer-reviewed paper in the journal Romance Studies arguing the script is a mix of languages he called “proto-Romance.”

Thus far, however, every claim of a Voynich solution — including both of last year’s — has been either ignored or debunked by other experts, media outlets, and Voynich obsessives. In Cheshire’s case, the University of Bristol retracted a press release highlighting his paper after other experts roundly challenged his research.

More here.