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Science and Technology "Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known." - Carl Sagan.

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Old February 5 2014, 12:34 PM   #1
gturner
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Possible breakthrough on the Voynich manuscript

In case you've never heard of it, the Voynich manuscript is a mysterious and undecipherable document that's been bouncing around Europe for many centuries, possibly since the 1400's. It is filled with pictures (especially of plants) and text that nobody could ever make sense of, leading many to conclude it was a hoax.

Last summer scientists performed a sophisticated semantic analysis on the manuscript and concluded that it can't be a forgery because the knowledge of how to fake a sophisticated language structure didn't exist at the time. Sci-News link

Now comes a new observation that 37 of the plants match illustrations from Mexico, and that several of the words associated with the plants appear to be close matches to the plants' name in Nahuatl, an Aztec language.

Some are skeptical of the finding, but if it's an odd, early post-contact form of writing an Aztec language (and the Spanish quickly made attempts to Latinize it), then the manuscript will either be quickly deciphered, at least in parts, or it will be yet another abject failure at figuring out what it says, so we should know pretty soon either way.

And of course the complete manuscript is on the Internet if you want to take a crack at it.
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Old February 5 2014, 05:23 PM   #2
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Re: Possible breakthrough on the Voynich manuscript

Seems a bit doubtful that the manuscript dates from the 1400s if it's based on an Aztec source -- the first European contact with the Aztecs was in the early 1500s.
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Old February 5 2014, 06:30 PM   #3
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Re: Possible breakthrough on the Voynich manuscript

Asbo Zaprudder wrote: View Post
Seems a bit doubtful that the manuscript dates from the 1400s if it's based on an Aztec source -- the first European contact with the Aztecs was in the early 1500s.
Unless...

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Old February 5 2014, 08:59 PM   #4
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Re: Possible breakthrough on the Voynich manuscript

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Old February 5 2014, 10:16 PM   #5
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Re: Possible breakthrough on the Voynich manuscript

Asbo Zaprudder wrote: View Post
Seems a bit doubtful that the manuscript dates from the 1400s if it's based on an Aztec source -- the first European contact with the Aztecs was in the early 1500s.
There are several possibilities.

One of the museum sites that has an archive of photos of the manuscript says it dates from the 15th or 16th centuries, so the carbon date might be in error or only apply to the vellum, not the ink.

Or the document actually predates contact and will be the first artifact showing that some Aztec elites had developed a written script somewhat similar to Europeans, which would be huge. There's a big gap in our knowledge because very few Aztec documents survived the conquest and burnings.

Or the document could come an Aztec scribe who'd learned something of Spanish writing and was trying to make a clearer document about some of their essential knowledge.

If it turns out that the writing is some form of Aztec, the break will probably come very soon as a bunch of scholars pursue the new lead, and then we'll probably have a treasure-trove of information, including the author's name and status.
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Old February 6 2014, 09:06 PM   #6
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Re: Possible breakthrough on the Voynich manuscript

So they are Earth plants? What a disappointment. So much for my hope it would turn out to be a document from the Andorian Antiquity.

I can't help but picture the aftermath if the artifact was alien. You pick the plain manuscript that provokes your mild interest without thinking much about it. You run a sample through the spectrometer, only to realise that the carbon dating process runs amok and places it before the dinosaurs. Or in the future. You're baffled, so you suddenly cannot stop your curiosity and you charge to the equipment again. You are right about to recalibrate it, when an idea pops in your head and you run another test on a sample. With the results in, your glasses fall of your nose. None of the isotopes ratios look familiar. Boy.

The adventure of the linguists are having with the document, despite its offensively earthly origin, bears resemblance to this, but with an added back and forth with no answer in sight. This does not seem to be a hoax even without the evidence from last year – who would be crazy enough to make a hoax so elaborate without any gain in it? – and yet nobody has managed to read it, relate it to a known language or writing system, or pick up a hint of a cipher. I like it.

I do hope that this hypothesis is close to the truth. I hope it is a document that has a bigger value than a practical joke of a man long-dead with too much time on their hands, or someone's cure-all recipes, under a cipher to hide them from fellow quacks. It will be awesome if this lets us peek into the past of one of our cultures. And a little bit saddening at the same time.
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Old February 6 2014, 10:12 PM   #7
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Re: Possible breakthrough on the Voynich manuscript

Well, some simple cryptologic style frequency analyses shouldn't be too hard. Ancient nuhuatl poems could possibly provide a passable text sample for single and double letter frequency counts, with the caveat that there might have been some general spelling changes between the two texts. I'm sure the Voynich Attacks blog could do it in a day or two.

I doubt the text is pre-contact, having now seen that it includes images of crossbows and castles, and in fact had to have been written by someone who was in Europe.
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Old February 6 2014, 10:16 PM   #8
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Re: Possible breakthrough on the Voynich manuscript

Asbo Zaprudder wrote: View Post
Seems a bit doubtful that the manuscript dates from the 1400s if it's based on an Aztec source -- the first European contact with the Aztecs was in the early 1500s.
the first documented European contact with the Aztecs was in the early 1500s.

The manuscript looks like something I would do if I was really bored. Scribble weird stuff, geometric shapes, and practice nice looking writing that makes no sense. My sketchbooks are full of that shit. Why are we denying that people in the past had fantasy and did shit out of fun and boredom?
If archeologist some day discover my desktop sheet, they are going to freak out over the meaning of it. When the truth is I scribbled the entire thing from top to bottom, back to front with mindless stuff when I'm on the phone with someone.
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Old February 6 2014, 10:55 PM   #9
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Re: Possible breakthrough on the Voynich manuscript

The trouble is that the scribblings aren't scribblings, as they pass all sorts of statistical tests for patterns that are almost certainly a real language. The trouble is, the symbol frequencies don't match up with any European language, nor do any of the period or later cyphers produce such text from a European language.

This is why the idea that perhaps it's a non-European language in a novel or unknown writing system are interesting.
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Old February 6 2014, 11:07 PM   #10
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Re: Possible breakthrough on the Voynich manuscript

It's funny, if you look at pages of it, like these:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedi..._%28135%29.jpg
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedi..._%28141%29.jpg

you see the same words over and over and over and over again. I'm not a decoder, but I can't see how that would EVER make sense. But at least it got naked women in it. Maybe it actually says boobies tits breasts boobies tits breast boobies tits breats funbags.
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Old February 9 2014, 10:07 PM   #11
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Re: Possible breakthrough on the Voynich manuscript

Ergotism was rampant around that time after all.
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Old February 10 2014, 12:17 AM   #12
JarodRussell
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Re: Possible breakthrough on the Voynich manuscript

Has anyone ever tried to decode it as music notes, not written word?
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Old February 10 2014, 12:39 AM   #13
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Re: Possible breakthrough on the Voynich manuscript

JarodRussell wrote: View Post
Has anyone ever tried to decode it as music notes, not written word?
Or it could be the words to the music. Repeated words fit just fine in a song. Maybe it was a collection of Medieval versions of The Fox. Good luck deciphering most of that.
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Old February 10 2014, 12:40 AM   #14
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Re: Possible breakthrough on the Voynich manuscript

It's kinda interesting. If we knew nothing about musical notation, and found a music score sheet. Would we ever be able to decipher it? Even if we actually had the same concept of music, but an entirely different way of notating it?
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Old February 10 2014, 03:41 AM   #15
gturner
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Re: Possible breakthrough on the Voynich manuscript

Music would certainly show patterns, but I don't think they'd show patterns highly similar to grammar.

I copied on of the manuscript's transcription alphabets to a text file, but I haven't written code to analyze it yet for comparisons to some Aztec language samples. Apparently people have been transcribing the manuscript into new alphabets ever since the days of the IBM punched card, thinking a computer could just crack it as a cypher. I even found a long 1978 monograph on the manuscript in the NSA archives.

NSA voynich PDF
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