Wowza – the long-awaited chemical analysis of the Voynich Manuscript’s inks by the McCrone Institute (you know, the one commissioned for Andreas Sulzer’s 2009 ORF documentary on the VMs) has just appeared sans fanfare on the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library’s Voynich page.
Feel free to read the report as a PDF, though note that it wouldn’t render in Internet Explorer for me, so I downloaded it directly (“Save Target As…”) and opened it in Adobe Reader. Its key conclusions are:-
* A single ink [typical iron gall] was “in all probability” used for both the main body of the text and for the drawings.
* A second ink [high iron] was used for the folio numbers.
* A third ink [high carbon, very low iron] was used for the quire numbers .
* A fourth ink [high carbon, very low iron] was used for the Latin alphabet on f1r.
* The blue paint was ground azurite “with minor amounts of cuprite, a copper oxide”.
* “The green paint is a mixture of copper-stained amorphous organic material optically consistent with copper resinate, and copper-chloride compounds consistent with atacamite or similar compounds”, but without any resins obviously present.
* Gum (presumably gum arabic) was used to bind the green paint and all the inks (apart from the Latin alphabet ‘a’ on f1r, which seems to have been bound with a protein), though “the spectra include several sharp peaks […] that are not expected for a gum as per the spectra in our library”, which “suggests the possibility of other constituents, which remain unidentified as of this date”. Note that the blue and red-brown paints were not tested for gum.
It’s going to take a while to digest this properly, basically because the Beinecke has only released the text part of the report, and none of the figures, photographs or reference spectra mentioned in the text. Other scans referred to in the text (such as UV scans of f1r, and presumably of f17r as this appeared in publicity montages for the documentary) are similarly absent: it would be particularly nice to see these as well, wouldn’t you say?
To my mind, the various ink compositions would seem to suggest that there were three distinct codicological phases: a first text/drawing phase (normal iron gall), a second quire number and f1r Latin alphabet phase (where the inks are different, but made to broadly the same house style), and a third folio numbers phase. All of which should be no great surprise to most Voynich researchers, but all the same I personally find it interesting that the quire numbers seem to have been added in the same general phase as f1r’s attempted cipher alphabet. It therefore seems likely that the quire numberer did not know how to decipher the VMs, a conclusion I reached several years ago via quite independent codicological means.
Finally, it is somewhat disappointing that the single most-debated piece of information is conspicuously absent: I refer, of course, to the suggestion that the ink was added not hugely long after the vellum was originally made. Which unfortunately means that many of the nuttier theories are still in play. Oh well: apart from that, it’s a nice piece of work, highly recommended!