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Voynich MS update
Posted: 01 September 2013 01:49 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I’ve just watched a documentary on this (we get them late in Thailand, see link below) which seems to have solved some mysteries. An expert analysed the ink and found it to be very old. Yale finally allowed carbon-dating from four pages because new techniques enabled it from tiny samples which didn’t damage the MS. It’s from 1404-1438 (see disparaging account here though the above conclusions seem sound). The documentary showed the sole realistic depiction in the MS of a city which had unique crenellations in/of? the towers of its walls, isolating it to northern Italy at that time.

They still have no clue of its purpose or what it means but at least we now know it wasn’t faked or written by Francis Bacon, etc which is a bit of a bummer for scholars who have invested a lot of their time on their pet theories science has shown to be wrong as with the Turin Shroud.

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Posted: 01 September 2013 03:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Ï’ve been trying to make heads or tails out of the website linked to above, but couldn’t. It’s almost as indecipherable as the Voynich MS itself. My conclusion is that it is a crank website, as so much associated with the manuscript is.

Was this guy associated with the documentary? I was not impressed with the list of “experts” assembled for the documentary. Not one paleographer, codicologist, or medievalist among them. I’m not sure what relevance glass blowing or architecture has to the manuscript, but I didn’t see the documentary. (Maybe the architects were there to talk about the comparison of the drawings of buildings in the book with Venetian buildings, but I’d be hesitant to rely on that as proof of anything. Chances are if someone sketches an imaginary cityscape, you will be able to find a real one somewhere that matches with fair verisimilitude.)

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Posted: 02 September 2013 12:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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A good rule of thumb regarding valuable ancient objects of unclear origin is “if it could conceivably be a fake --- it probably is a fake”.  My country is a treasure house of ancient objects. Some of these have religious associations which make them especially valuable (read “lucrative”, so far as forgers are concerned). Christian scholars are mad for tangible evidence of Jesus et al; Jewish scholars are mad for tangible evidence of Moses et al. When an object turns up which appears to have Christian associations, every Christian archaeologist in the world desperately wants it to be genuine. The same applies to Jewish archaeologists with respect to Jewish objects. So already you’ve got a powerful bias, of which forgers are not slow to take advantage. Forgers --- their name is legion, and the best of them would make Dr. Moriarty look like a fumbling second year college student by comparison. Public bodies in Israel have spent many millions on fake antiques, some of which have already been exposed. And it’s not only in Israel. Remember the old saying: “Renoir produced four or five thousand paintings, of which seventeen thousand are in the U.S.A.” Art experts sometimes come cheaper than Old Masters, too.

If you say to me “aren’t you being a bit cynical about this?” my answer is “No. I am being very cynical, and with good reason”.

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Posted: 02 September 2013 03:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The thing about the Voynich MS is that it is an old fake. That’s what makes it interesting. Why it was made and for what purpose is a valid historical question. At some point, either in age or quality, forgeries become works of art/interest in and of themselves.

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Posted: 02 September 2013 11:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Why it was made and for what purpose is a valid historical question

Very true, and it’s easy to understand the interest of researchers in trying to figure out if the book makes any sort of sense. The more complex a fake, the more likely it is to arouse interest. As to why it was made: lucre is, and has always been, almost invariably the reason for producing fake antiques and works of art. Six hundred ducats, if that was the sum paid for it, was a very large sum of money indeed four or five hundred years ago. More than 2 kg of pure gold are worth a great deal of money even today.

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Posted: 02 September 2013 11:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I don’t know the technical term but analysis of the frequency and placement of the symbols shows that is definitely a cipher and not just a series of random doodles. It’s consistent in the way you get ‘th’ and ‘oo’ in English writing but never ‘xh’ or ‘zz’ so how can it be a fake? It is doubtless nonsense but there is an underlying meaning.

Most of the Voynich illustrations are barmy but the realistic one of a city (which I can’t find online) they showed in the documentary had a V cut from the towers, some sort of architectural flourish unique to northern Italy consistent with the carbon-dating. It was on the Nat Geo channel so was either financed or sanctioned by them. The ink and carbon-dating analysis was shown and explained in detail. I saw an earlier BBC documentary about the MS which was a lot better only Yale hadn’t allowed dating so it was largely speculation regarding its meaning and provenance except for the symbol frequency etc analysis I mentioned above. It’s a fascinating thing and I hope someone cracks it eventually. And why did the writer go to such extraordinary, painstaking lengths?

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Posted: 02 September 2013 12:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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so how can it be a fake? It is doubtless nonsense but there is an underlying meaning.

Depends on what you mean by “fake.” A better term might be “hoax.”

We have a tendency to view people in the past as being simple and unsophisticated, but that is far from true. People in the Middle Ages were just as smart and savvy as we are today. They certainly knew about codes and ciphers, and some spymasters were quite skilled at cryptography. Someone may simply have constructed the manuscript to resemble a code, with the writing representing nothing at all. Or they could have encoded a randomly selected text. Or it may actually represent a text the encoder wanted to hide (i.e., not a hoax). The question is why?

It was on the Nat Geo channel so was either financed or sanctioned by them.

That means nothing. They have a lot of airtime to fill. Almost all such documentaries are independently made and submitted to the channel in hopes the producers will get paid for it. Besides, these cable channels make a lot of money for the organizations that sponsor them. They put on all sorts of crap. If it’s about a mystery and likely to garner a lot of eyeballs, and hence advertising revenue, they’ll put it on, regardless of veracity or quality.

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Posted: 02 September 2013 01:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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The ink and carbon-dating analysis was shown and explained in detail.

The information I can get from the Internet says only that the vellum was carbon-dated, but does not specify how, or if at all, the ink was dated.  Any self-respecting forger attempting such a document would, as a matter of course, write it on a substrate of the proper date*, which would be difficult, but feasible. To reproduce inks and pigments from materials hundreds of years old would be very, very much more difficult, if possible at all. I’d be interested to know - have the ink and the pigments of the book been unequivocally dated?

Another thing that’s not made clear, is what independent evidence there is of the book’s having existed— evidence, that is, other than the letters which accompanied the book when Voynich discovered it. Is it mentioned at all in other records?

*One Internet source does mention that some of the pages show clear evidence of having been used more than once. Nothing unusual, or suspect, of course, about that.

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Posted: 02 September 2013 01:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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To reproduce inks and pigments from materials hundreds of years old would be very, very much more difficult, if possible at all. I’d be interested to know - have the ink and the pigments of the book been unequivocally dated?

And is it even possible, by any currently-known dating method, to date ink or paint separately from the paper or parchment it is written/painted on?

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Posted: 02 September 2013 01:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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It’s extremely difficult, and I don’t think vb meant to say that the ink had been carbon dated.  This account from 2011 discuss the impracticality of doing so.  A further problem would be that carbon-based inks (typically black) are typically based on soot, and while most sources of soot in the relevant time period would have been from recently-living fuels (wood, animal grease, plant oils), it might be derived from from fossil fuels (coal, bitumen pitch, petroleum, even peat), which would give a spuriously ancient date.

edited for typo & awkward phrasing

[ Edited: 02 September 2013 04:35 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 02 September 2013 10:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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The more one reads about this book, the more fascinated one becomes. No wonder so many people get obsessed with it.

It seems (according to this extremely interesting site: http://www.voynich.nu/) that there are records giving independent testimony of the book’s existence in the past, which would rule out the possibility of its being a modern fake (the prime suspect for which would, of course, be Voynich).  As far as I’m concerned, that takes us back to the Emperor and his 600 ducats.  If somebody does eventually make sense of the book, and my doots are proved unfounded, nobody will be more pleased than I.

By the way: Nothing that I’ve seen so far makes any mention of any tests carried out on the Marci letter itself, which is a crucial piece of evidence in the Voynich story. If that letter were phony, all the rest would be, too.  Have I missed something? Has the Marci letter been as thoroughly examined as the book itself?

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Posted: 03 September 2013 02:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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From what I’ve read some people have claimed there is evidence that the inks were added to the parchment shortly after it’s creation, but no one has ever adduced said evidence. (Part of the problem with topics that attract cranks is separating the spurious claims from the real ones.)

It is almost certainly not a modern forgery. Obtaining the materials of appropriate age, particularly enough unused parchment, would be all but impossible. The book was clearly written several hundred years ago. Also there is no reason why a medieval or early modern forger would go to the trouble of obtaining properly aged parchment. It’s wouldn’t be until the twentieth century that anyone could date it. So it seems likely that the book was written with a decade or two of the parchment date.

Here is a clear, no nonsense description of the manuscript.

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Posted: 03 September 2013 09:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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It is almost certainly not a modern forgery. Obtaining the materials of appropriate age, particularly enough unused parchment, would be all but impossible

Difficult, but not impossible, particularly not for an antiquarian book dealer with connections all over Europe. The parchment wouldn’t have to be unused: erasure and reuse of parchment was commonplace for many hundreds of years.  And a forger wouldn’t need radiocarbon dating to get the date of a written document acceptably right, before he erased and used it

The book was clearly written several hundred years ago.

Those are the precious words that are sweet music to the ears of the forger, for they spell success.  ---- I’m not saying the book’s a modern forgery, or any sort of forgery. The rules of the game are: it’s not a forgery until proven one; and normally, the only way to prove it is by circumstantial evidence.  That is why every possibility must be explored to the utmost, in the hope that somewhere, the forger has slipped up, however slightly.  All I’m doing, is asking whether every single possibility has, indeed, been explored to the utmost. That’s why I attach so much importance to that letter.  It’s so pat: a letter just happens to have remained in the book; the letter just happens to give details of the book’s history (not available anywhere else), which, if accepted, help to explain plausibly how the book got to be where it was. Of course it’s all very plausible. For a forgery to succeed, it has to be.......... A great deal of information can be gained from a piece of paper three or four hundred years old - from watermarks, from analysis of the ink (using techniques such as spectrophotometry); from properties such as sheet size, basis weight, etc. Chemical analysis could reveal the use of anachronistic materials, if there were any. Radiocarbon dating might give the date of the most recent fibrous materials used. There are many possibilities where a forger might slip up. People who know a great deal about old books sometimes know slightly less about the technology and the history of papermaking.

And at the risk of sounding dully repetitive, I’ll sat it again: the best successful forgers are better at what they’re doing, than are the people chasing them. Their livelihood depends on their being always one jump ahead.  They are helped by people who, for whatever reason, want to believe that their products are genuine.

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Posted: 03 September 2013 09:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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The parchment wouldn’t have to be unused: erasure and reuse of parchment was commonplace for many hundreds of years.

But such erasure leaves telltale signs that are rather easy to detect, even without modern methods. The Voynich MS was written on clean parchment. That’s indisputable.

All I’m doing, is asking whether every single possibility has, indeed, been explored to the utmost.

Sure, but there is a limit to how much time and energy one should spend searching down blind alleys. All the available evidence points to the manuscript dating to the early 15th century. We have no evidence to think otherwise.

Personally, I’d like to know more about the binding. Yes, the parchment was RC-dated, but what about the the other material in the book? (A later binding would not prove the MS isn’t old, as rebinding is even more common than erasure of parchment, but it would tell us something.)

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Posted: 03 September 2013 11:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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And a forger wouldn’t need radiocarbon dating to get the date of a written document acceptably right, before he erased and used it

I think Dave’s point was that a forger operating before the invention of radiocarbon dating (1946) wouldn’t feel a need to obtain genuinely antique parchment, just parchment that could pass for being from the right time.

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Posted: 03 September 2013 01:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I’m not going to say any more, except to apologize to one and all for harping on the subject of forgery.  The faking of antique objects is a big subject in my country, of course, where you can hardly move a muscle without disturbing something ancient; and I’ve had several personal (and professional) brushes with the subject of forgery, including buying 50% of a fake tetradrachm of Amphipolis for more than a month’s salary (that was in my very green days, many many years ago. Today, I’d not have touched the thing with a bargepole).  Some of the things I’ve seen—I wouldn’t believe, if I hadn’t seen them. But—‘nuff said. Time will tell. The Turin shroud held out for about six centuries before the necessary analytical techniques turned up --- and even now, people are still arguing. The bottom line is: people will go on believing what they want, or need to believe, regardless of whether it’s the truth or not. What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not wait for an answer. 

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