Chances are you've heard about the Voynich Manuscript, a book seemingly detailing some of the finer points of botany that nobody can actually read. While some have claimed it's a fake, the book has been around for centuries and has stood up to even the most aggressive code-breaking techniques as people try and decipher its contents.
Now, though, someone thinks they've made some spectacular progress that could lead to the book finally being deciphered for the first time since it was first written back in the 15th century,
Researchers at the University of Alberta now believe that the elusive book is written in Hebrew, using a code that involves shuffling the vowels and removing consonants. The team, led by Greg Kondrak, used some translation software that had previously been used on the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which says that the very first sentence of the manuscript says "She made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people."
While it's a bit of an odd sentence, to say the least, the team is encouraged by the fact the sentence is coherent and (mostly) grammatically correct. Other words picked out include the likes of 'farmer', 'air', and 'light', and according to researchers around 80 per cent of the words are in Hebrew. The software itself appears to have produced a translation that's 97% accurate.
While it's not a proper translation that we can all understand at this point, Kondrak believes that experts in ancient hebrew will be able to make more sense of the manuscript's contents - particularly if they have a background as a historian.
So while the general public won't be gleaming over its contents in anything other that mystified awe, the breakthrough means we are one big step closer to figuring out exactly what the mysterious book is all about. It certainly makes theories that the book is some sort of Renaissance-era practical joke, and deliberately filled with undecipherable nonsense, seem a lot less likely.
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