One of our favourite cover series is our Embellished Manuscripts Collection. We love working with libraries and private collectors to find the original handwritten drafts behind some of the world’s best-loved stories.
But sometimes the mystery behind a manuscript just won’t reveal itself. We’ve long been fascinated by the infamously indecipherable Voynich Manuscript – a 240-page document from the early 15th century that is often referred to as the “world’s most mysterious book.” Filled with text and diagrams seemingly unrelated to any known language, the manuscript offers a tantalising mystery to anyone interested in language or human history. Over the years, scholars, cryptographers, linguists and everyday avid readers have attempted to decipher the code used to write the manuscript to no avail… until now.
“She made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people.”
According to Canadian computer scientist Greg Kondrak, this is the first complete sentence of the Voynich. And how did he figure this out? With the help of artificial intelligence and computer algorithms.
Using the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Kondrak’s team was able to “teach” their computer to identify 380 languages correctly up to 97% of the time. From that knowledge base, they ran the Voynich through the same test and found that the manuscript was written in Hebrew, or a form of it. They determined that the letters within each word had been reordered and the vowels dropped, but the computer was still able to find enough key words to decipher the code.
Thus far Voynich Manuscript experts have been less than receptive to his work, but Kondrak and his supporters believe he and his team are onto something. And while the researchers acknowledge that the computer can only translate, and not add syntax, it certainly seems like a promising start to uncovering the authorshop and meaning behind this mystery manuscript. If you feel up for a challenge and want to take a crack at the code, Wikimedia Commons has all the pages available to view.