The Significance of the Recent Discovery of the Voynich Manuscript

Recently Stephen Bax from Bedfordshire University claimed that he had been able to decipher 10 words of the famous Voynich manuscript, BBC news.

The Voynich manuscript is 246 pages of handwritten manuscript discovered by an Italian antique book dealer Wilfrid Voynich in 1912. He purchased it among a collection of second-hand books. The Voynich manuscript largely consists of two major parts: texts and illustrations. Both are yet to to crack and understand.

Many scholars from different specialty areas have tried to study the document. No one is able to conclusively decipher it. Notable efforts include Marcelo Montemurro who claimed that the language used in Voynich manuscript follows certain pattern and therefore is likely to be some sort of real language, and Arthur Tucker and Rexford Talbert who in their paper identified that botanical illustrations in the manuscript are from the 16th century central Mexico.

Just recently, Stephen Bax, a linguistics expert says he has deciphered 10 words from the texts. He believes his findings described in his paper are correct because he is able to find related illustrations alongside the words. For example, he finds the word for Taurus, alongside a picture of seven stars.

Bax’s methodology is largely based on linguistics knowledge. For example, he started from identifying proper nouns (plants and starts) depicted in the glyph throughout the manuscript. Using the identified nouns as clues or legends, he then deciphered other characters.

The significance of this discovery lies in the following aspects, all of which make it worthwhile to receive the publicity.

First, studying Voynich manuscript is not just about deciphering the mysteries. It is also about the anthropology and culture behind it. From the language perspective, the texts in the manuscript is not understandable yet. This means it is none of any existing languages. Being about to decode and translate the texts is of significant important to linguistics.

From an anthropology point of view, it is important to decide where the manuscript is originally from, and which particular region is the manuscript’s glyph depicting. Such knowledge will help us understand the world at that time, and how people understood the world at that time. For example. since the manuscript is discovered in Italy, people traditionally though it is originated from Europe. However, the work by Tucker and Talbert suggested that many plants in the manuscript could be from central Mexico. If that hypothesis is confirmed, then the other unknown plants in the manuscript are very likely from central Mexico as well. This helps people understand its agriculture

It also perfects exemplifies the interactions of various knowledge such as linguistics, botany, informational technology. All the knowledge are required to truly comprehend the message hidden in the manuscript.

Last but not the least, this is a great example showing that archaeology is not just about finding things, but also what to do with our findings. In this particular case, discovering the manuscript was almost effortless. However, researchers are not able to reach a consensus as to what it is really about.


Read More

ExtremeTech: Voynich Manuscript, most mysterious text in world, may have been cracked.
TheVerge: Decrypting the most mysterious book in the world.
PopularMechanics: Has the Most Mysterious Manuscript in the World Finally Been Cracked?

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