The message inside “the world’s most mysterious medieval manuscript” has eluded cryptographers, mathematicians and linguists for over a century. And for many, the so-called Voynich book is assumed to be a hoax.
But a new study, published in the journal Plos One, suggests the manuscript may, after all, hold a genuine message. Scientists say they found linguistic patterns they believe to be meaningful words within the text.
Whether or not it really does have any meaningful information, though, is much debated by amateurs and professionals alike.
It was even investigated by a team of prominent code breakers during WWII who successfully cracked complex encrypted enemy messages, but they failed to find meaning in the text.
The book has been dated to the early 1400s, but it largely disappeared from public record until 1912 when an antique book dealer called Wilfrid Voynich bought it amongst a number of second-hand publications in Italy.
Marcelo Montemurro, a theoretical physicist from the University of Manchester, UK, has spent many years analysing its linguistic patterns and says he hopes to unravel the manuscript’s mystery, which he believes his new research is one step closer to doing.
“The text is unique, there are no similar works and all attempts to decode any possible message in the text have failed. It’s not easy to dismiss the manuscript as simple nonsensical gibberish, as it shows a significant [linguistic] structure,” he told BBC News.
Dr Montemurro and a colleague used a computerised statistical method to analyse the text, an approach that has been known to work on other languages.
They focused on patterns of how the words were arranged in order to extract meaningful content-bearing words.
“There is substantial evidence that content-bearing words tend to occur in a clustered pattern, where they are required as part of the specific information being written,” he explains.
“Over long spans of texts, words leave a statistical signature about their use. When the topic shifts, other words are needed.
“The semantic networks we obtained clearly show that related words tend to share structure similarities. This also happens to a certain degree in real languages.”
Dr Montemurro believes it unlikely that these features were simply “incorporated” into the text to make a hoax more realistic, as most of the required academic knowledge of these structures did not exist at the time the Voynich manuscript was created.
Though he has found a pattern, what the words mean remains a mystery. The very fact that a century of brilliant minds have analysed the work with little progress means some believe a hoax is the only likely explanation.