Author Archives: Voynich Bombe

Voynich Heavy Inking

This was supposed to be a comment on Nick Pelling’s blog ciphermysteries, but turned out too lengthy. So I decided to turn it into a blog post. It is of the “all out” type..


I am wondering about the use of the term “glyph” in voynich world. I suspect it is understood slightly different as in Unicode terminology, i.e. “characters vs. glyphs“. More like in “hiero-glyphs”, I’m afraid.

I think EVA’s “bad” is in that it partially tries to transport meaning in shapes instead of code points, and that it encodes in (E)ASCII instead of Unicode.

If we look at the Copiale Chiffre decipherment, the simple complication of “tokenising” (substituting) german bi- & trigraphs “ch”, “tz”, “sch”, and doubles “ll” and so on in separate homophone sets disrupts statistical language guessing and more.

Now EVA does exactly that when it introduces special characters which could be mapped otherwise in Unicode (like diacritics, dialectic variants, tironian notes, latin & scribal abbreviations, phonotactics [variable spacing] etc.) or be expressed as ligatures. Much worse, the mapping is to high ASCII chars instead of the Unicode Private Use Area. So e.g. we throw an inofficial &163 (£, english pound sign) at the stats where it would eventually need an U+2184, Latin Small Letter Reversed C, etc. The neglecting of ligatures, abbreviations and spacing does it’s deed.

While otherwise little regarded features of medieval crypto techniques of Linguistic Obfuscation, for example Code Switching (using latin, vernacular french, italian etc. intermittently) and layering of these “weak” methods certainly pose an obstacle, some statistical methods are not impeded by the uncertainty of existing transcriptions, like the fundamental note, that there are no capitalizations in, sorry for the pun, “so-called voynichese script”.

The voynichese character set is not an “in situ” creation, meaning it is not invented out of the blue, as this is an almost impossible task for reasons I cannot outline here.

The script uses many ligatures and has many unique scribal abbreviations, along with many borrowings from Tironian notes” would describe it rather well, while this quote is nicked from the Wikipedia article about Insular Script.

Prescribed practice hasn’t been tried, so far. The most difficult problem of “no language, no alphabet” could be digitally tackled with a graphemic transliteration table first, followed by an allographic analysis (comparing mean distribution of possible variants), encoding spatial positions on a character level, encoding emanation types (e.g. inking density for writing order definition), ambiguities etc, etc. Of course encoding the imagery, marginalia, physical properties etc. would be part of the VMS ontology, no matter if TEIP5 or standoff-property style.

Multi-level is the keyword, but I realise this is getting much too lengthy for now while not even beginning to outline the task completely. It means tons of work. I would like to avoid a certain proverb I find ghastly, but it is true:

A lot of bathtubs will have to be unplugged.

The whole duty
of Typography, as of
is to communicate
to the imagination,
without loss
by the way,
the thought or image
to be communicated
by the Author.

توانا بود هر که دانا بود

شاهنامه ابوالقاسم فردوسی

An ancient metaphor: thought is a thread, and the raconteur is a spinner of yarns — but the true storyteller, the poet, is a weaver. The scribes made this old and audible abstraction into a new and visible fact. After long practice, their work took on such an even, flexible texture that they called the written page a textus, which means cloth.

Robert Bringhurst, “The Elements of Typographic Style

The Voynich Undusting

Lunch break is over! Now for a short coffee break.. there is a book on the coffee table, a coffee table book, so to say. With strangely familiar looking letter like symbols and incomprehensible naive imagery. So much for shortness.. but let me type along.

I think the Yale facsimile edition of the VMS is excellent. Not so much in terms of “crispness” of the print, which would rather disappoint me. It enables me to “get related” with the physical appearance of the volume, almost as being able to leaf through it. A very different experience from watching it onscreen.

I need to do a few things differently on this blog, in terms of personal resource allocation. Hence, to understand the true nature of the weBlog format, which is to be an aid to condensate my thoughts. You are welcome to accompany me on my breadcrumbs trail. Please excuse brevity from now on.

The Voynich 1908 Implications

Bitter-Sweet Traces

Setting the creation date of The Voynich between ~1908 to 1912 and assuming Wilfrid Voynich as the creator has a few implications, I believe, which I will collect on a separate implications page as they come to mind.

Most evidently, all of the provenance history must be utter humbug: No Kircher, no Tepenec and no Rudolf II after all (before that it was too brittle anyways). If the Marci Letter is genuine (which the Tepenec-Signature is not), could it simply be about some other volume originating from the “bookish” emperor’s vast collection?

Everything we know about the find of the manuscript originates from Wilfrid Voynich. While humbly leaving the judgement to experts to come, he diligently does the best in his means and researches a history of provenance – which is completely drawn up by himself. The sudden recall of the letter during that process is just a bit too much of self-reference.

We are simply running into a problem of comparison:

The manuscript was found by W. Voynich – The manuscript is documented by the provenance – The provenance was researched by W. Voynich

The same is also the matter with the inks, I’m afraid. Ultimately we are constantly comparing from the same source. This may sound heretic at first but eventually shedding that tail of the story might lead to a certain sense of relief..

financing photo

Photo by 401(K) 2013

The new creation date does not do away at all with cost & effort involved in creating such a volume, which have been pointed out as factors often enough. Furthermore, the short time span cries for division of work and financing –  and a few other lucky circumstances.

I imagine Mr. Voynich as the bearer of a great script in the search for a producer, speaking in Hollywood terms. He also was the editor and director of the production but something must have gotten out of hand and in the end was left with nothing.

To me there is a hint that The Voynich has an actual message for us to convey. I don’t have any other explanation for Mr. Voynich’s conduct in the matter.

Check out Rich SantaColoma’s Blog to read more on the topic.

It is a trite remark, but one that cannot be too often repeated, that art and science go hand in hand.1

Edward Sang, mathematics teacher and civil engineer

The Voynich X-mas List

More Wishes – Straw in Return

gas chromatograph photo

Photo by Andy.Schultz

In a follow-up to my post on The Voynich Rebinding I would like to add gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to the wish list. Say that word aloud while you type it into your preferred search engine and before you can catch your breath you will be presented with a find on Nick Pelling’s blog. So, again I’m not alone with the desire to locate the origin of some of the ingredients used in manufacturing The Voynich.

It is also healthy to get up to date what GC (w/ or w/o MS) cannot do for you, “CSI NY style”. Anyways the conducted material analysis and it’s fallacies seems to have been criticised enough and I’m afraid we won’t see more destructive tests anytime soon. But as always, the devil pearl straw nests way down in the comments of  Nick’s post: A Mr. Thomas Spande comments about palmierite, (K,Na)2Pb(SO4)2, a mineral that has been identified as possible ingredient in the X-ray diffraction run.

Luigi Palmieri

Photo: INGV

Palmierite is a mineral with very rare natural occurrence, named in honour of Sgr. Palmieri, director of the Mt. Vesuvius Observatory, who discovered it in situ in 1906.
I have nothing to add. Besides, the other place where natural palmierite in the same form is to be found lies in Kamchatka.
This time my smoking gun is represented by a non-smoking fumarole on Mount Vesuvius.

The Mccrone analysis report states that with all possibility the inks of the drawings and the ink of the writing are basically the same. That does not convince me at all. It may be the same ink, but nowhere does it say it necessarily came from the same flask.. The missing pages could hold a possible explanation: a) there was inappropriate pre-existing content (drawings) on them and b) they were used for anaLYSIS of the inks, which the remaining chemical stains of the attempted “enhancement” of the Tepenecz signature could account for. That story was really weak to begin with.

strohstern photo

Photo by catlovers

To some this may represent a straw only. Thinking of it I always really liked the straw-stars that are common as christmas tree decoration in southern Germany and Austria. How long ’till X-mas again?

Oh, and dare I whisper: Infrared reflectography.. Hey, it is non-desctructive.

Read more on the history of pigments.

The Voynich Rebinding

Adding to the Wishlist

Photo: BBC

Photo: BBC

There are several issues with the binding of the manuscript. To sum up, the pages have been rearranged, numbered and bound at some point in the booke’s history, or maybe more than once. Now I think it would be very useful to know when this happened (and possibly where as well), not towards proving or disproving any specific theory, simply to add to the larger picture.

So there is the simple sounding question:

Can the binding of the manuscript be dated?

If I were to add to the wishlist of tests applied to the actual “hardware” of The Voynich I would like someone to look for yarn, glue (?) and method used. Maybe this is harder than I imagine, maybe it has already been done & dusted. I’ll keep looking.