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Imagine a book which contains a secret language and mysterious drawings, a book whose meaning has eluded the finest cryptographers and linguists for at least 400 years. This is the VoynichManuscript.

Image from Yale University Library

The VoynichManuscript is a document with a long history. It was rediscovered in 1912 by Wilfrid Voynich:

While examining the manuscripts, with a view to the acquisition of at least a part of the collection, my attention was especially drawn by one volume. It was such an ugly duckling compared with the other manuscripts, with their rich decorations in gold and colors, that my interest was aroused at once. I found that it was written entirely in cipher. Even a necessarily brief examination of of the vellum upon which it was written, the calligraphy, the drawings and the pigments suggested to me as the origin the latter part of the thirteenth century. The drawings indicated it to be an encyclopedic work on natural philosophy. [...] the fact that this was a thirteenth century manuscript in cipher convinced me that it must be a work of exceptional importance, and to my knowledge the existence of a manuscript of such an early date written entirely in cipher was unkown, so I included it among the manuscripts which I purchased from this collection.

Yale has some sample pages online at http://inky.library.yale.edu/voy/voy2.html

There seems to be agreement that the text contains at least two seperate "languages" - either different ciphers, authors or plain text languages. This is born out by statistical analysis and examination of handwriting.

During my research, I came across these fascinating representations of texts in various languages including the Voynich text, with letters coloured according to their entropy (i.e. how easy they are to predict). So, for example, in English, the letters in the word "the" are pretty predictable - most of the time, a "th" is followed by an "e". Similarly for "qu".

Another subject I find fascinating is DataCompression, an article at http://web.bham.ac.uk/G.Landini/evmt/commas.htm discusses the use of Lempel-Ziv / "comma counting" to determine the entropy of the Voynich text(s).


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