The Voynich Manuscript, a 15th-century illustrated manuscript written in a language that's never even been identified, has long been one of the most mysterious books of all time. Nobody, not even military cryptographers, have managed to decipher so much as a single page, and it has weird, supernatural-y elements (like depictions of plants that nobody's ever seen before).
It's been proposed as everything from a hoax to a cipher to an act of a a crazy person, with more sincere interpretations placing the manuscript's origins in such disparate places as northern Germany, Thailand, and, most recently, Mexico. But a new study from a linguistics professor at the University of Bedfordshire claims to have deciphered 14 letters and 10 words of the manuscript—which, believe it or not, is a major achievement in the world of Voynich.
"I hit on the idea of identifying proper names in the text, following historic approaches which successfully deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphs and other mystery scripts, and I then used those names to work out part of the script," explained Professor Bax, who is to give his inaugural lecture as a professor at the university later this month. "The manuscript has a lot of illustrations of stars and plants. I was able to identify some of these, with their names, by looking at mediaeval herbal manuscripts in Arabic and other languages, and I then made a start on a decoding, with some exciting results."
Professor Bax claims that one of his identified words is "KANTAIRON," alongside a picture that could be the European medicinal herb centaury. Bax, who studies Semitic languages, believes the Manuscript's origins lie in the Middle East or West Asia.
If you're curious about the Manuscript, Wikimedia Commons has the entire thing online, page by page.
[Image: Voynich Manuscript via Wikipedia]