British academic gerard cheshire claims to have solved in two weeks what the world’s best researchers have been trying to solve for more than 100 years: the mysterious voynich manuscript.
No one has yet been able to recognize the unknown writing or the language of the document. Only one thing is clear: a carbon analysis has dated the parchment of the 240 pages with numerous illustrations to 1404 to 1438.
For years, such breakthroughs have been proclaimed and dismissed as nonsense by most researchers. The manuscript has already been deciphered as hebraic, ancient turkic or even the aztec language nahuatl. But cheshire’s article gained weight because it appeared in the journal romance studies.
But since the university of bristol made the article public a few days ago, it has been met with a hail of criticism. "Cheshire has been sending his theses out to professional colleagues for a long time, and he wasn’t taken seriously for two years," jurgen hermes, a computer linguist at the university of koln who covered the voynich manuscript in his 2012 dissertation, told the german press agency. The novelist sandra hajek from the university of gottingen accuses him of unscientific work.
Cheshire identified a dominican nun as the author who wrote a reference work for maria of castile, queen of aragon, and her court (1401-1458). He deduced this from maps in the manuscript, on which he identified a rescue operation directed by maria of castile after a volcanic eruption in 1444.
It is about herbal remedies, therapeutic baths, reproduction and child rearing. In 2017, the television journalist nicholas gibbs had made similar statements with regard to content. He drew his conclusions from the illustrations and decipherable latin abbreviations.
Gibb’s findings are purely interpretive, but his are not, cheshire wrote to dpa by e-mail. "It is simple: it is not a matter of interpretation. The solution needed an alphabet, a script and a language. Now it’s possible to take every word, phrase and sentence and translate it logically." Next to a picture of a plant, cheshire deciphers as text about "la naza eo eme ona oma nor nais t" and translates: so that the pregnancy/baby creates good growth for a normal birth.
For him, the voynich manuscript is the only known document in the language protoromance, a forerunner of today’s romance languages such as spanish, french or italian. The writing had died out. He had, however, deciphered the alphabet from A to Z, as well as symbols and abbreviations. "Identifying the language and unraveling the mystery of writing took ingenuity and lateral thinking," writes cheshire.
For the renowned US medievalist lisa fagin davis, the cheshire theory is "nonsense": "sorry folks, protoromance doesn’t exist," she tweeted. Hayek says the oldest texts handed down in romance languages date back to the 9th century. And 10. Century. "They show no resemblance whatsoever to the language of the text reconstructed by cheshire."It is almost impossible that some kind of proto-roman language will be used until the 15th century. I have received in the twenty-first century.
It could also not be the writing of a natural language, says hermes. "Natural languages show patterns, such as the distribution of letters, combinations of letters or words. These patterns are comparatively similar in all known natural languages. The text of the voynich manuscript, however, deviates from these patterns to a considerable extent in some cases."
The manuscript is named after the polish antiquarian wilfred voynich (1865-1930), who later emigrated to new york and bought it in rome in 1912. It eventually ended up, through his widow, in the beinecke library at yale university in the USA.
Yale university warned against believing claims like cheshire’s unchecked, and even bristol university backed down after the storm of hame and criticism. She took the text from the website, "for further testing", as it hieb.
Hermes, in view of the current state of research, is inclined to this theory: "the manuscript cannot be cracked because someone has simply put something down on paper that makes no sense, perhaps a psychologically disturbed person, perhaps a child, or someone who has sold the manuscript at a high price."