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An academic at the University of Bristol claims to have successfully deciphered the Voynich manuscript.

The Voynich manuscript is a handwritten illustrated manuscript of 240 pages, currently held in the Beinecke Library at Yale University in the USA, which has been carbon-dated to the mid 15th-century.  It is named after Wilfred M Voynich, a polish book dealer and antiquarian who purchased the script in 1912.

Many previous attempts to decode the manuscript have been unsuccessful.  This includes attempts by Alan Turing and one of the renowned cryptographers of the 20th century, Edward Snowdon. The script baffled the FBI, who studied it during the Cold War, apparently under the impression it could be Communist propaganda.

Dr Gerard Cheshire has now made a claim that it is a therapeutic reference book, made by Dominican nuns for Maria of Castile, Queen of Aragon, who was the great-aunt of Catherine of Aragon.

He says that it is written in an extinct language, Proto-Romance, which belongs to modern Romance languages including Spanish, French, Italian and Catalan.  He has stated that “it is also no exaggeration to say this work represents one of the most important developments to date in Romance linguistics.”

The academic would next like to translate the entire manuscript and put together a lexicon. However, this will take time and funding.  The University of Bristol currently does not wish to be affiliated with the find, following “concerns” voiced by other academics; this may impact the possibility of this future work.

Ancient and Modern History applicants might be interested in looking further into manuscripts contemporary with this one and consider what these might reveal about the time period. Linguistics applicants might reflect on the significance of this extinct language to Romance linguistics.

 

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