Over the last couple of years, Australian researcher Gordon Cramer has been promoting (and indeed gaining a little media attention for) his various theories about the Somerton Man that he has patiently built up over the last four years: for example, that the dead man was a Cold War spy and that the Rubaiyat note contains microwriting.

Specifically, Gordon asserts that he can discern microwriting inside a number of the letters that were found on the back of the Rubaiyat, most notably the letter “Q”.

As I understand it, his claim is that even though the contrasty writing in the image (looks like it) was written in a laundry pen on a shiny surface (say, a print of a photograph), that overwriting process still managed to preserve the fine detail of the original microwriting additively within it: and that by using a carefully chosen sequence of image enhancement steps, he thinks he has been able to reconstruct that original microwriting.

I was sceptical of this claim for many reasons. For instance, it seems hugely likely to me that we can see a small part of the original writing that (one would hope) lies beneath the laundry pen marks…


…yet as far as I can see, there is no sign there of any microwriting. And if microwriting isn’t there, why should microwriting be anywhere else? But I digress. 🙂

More recently Gordon has, in response to questions from me, elucidated the experimental process he followed by which he believes he was able to make that microwriting visible. As a result, I have gone through the process of trying to understand and reproduce his results, and I’m posting here to explain what I found.

Here’s the original Q, cropped and rotated counterclockwise by 90 degrees but otherwise completely unchanged from the original scans:


We can, without much difficulty, directly pick out the set of grey levels in the image that make up the curve of the Q (that Gordon claims contains the microwriting): and if we adjust the image’s levels so that this range (12.5% to 50%) fills the entire 8-bit dynamic range, this is what we get:


Let’s now blur this (which is essentially what happens when you resize an image to be slightly smaller than 100%):


And then let’s sharpen it up again to try to bring out the detail that Gordon thinks is there:


Amazingly, we can now apparently see the word “SEGA” starting to coalesce out of the digital mists. Of course, the video games company SEGA (which started out as “Service Games”) only became known as “SEGA” in 1965 or so (it’s the first two letters of each word), so the actual chances of the Somerton Man having been a secret Sonic The Hedgehog fan are basically zero. Possibly even less.

Yet a number of other image processing experiments I carried out on the Q produced different results. All in all, while I can see how Gordon extracted some kind of microwriting from inside the Q, I also believe that he could have extracted any number of different messages from the same source image (with only slightly different image enhancement sequences), and that he could very likely have extracted plausible-looking microwriting from any sufficiently noisy source image.

In the Voynich Manuscript world, we have an extraordinarily close precedent for this whole thing: in the 1920s, Professor William Romaine Newbold used large prints of rotograph images, strong lighting and large magnification to extract what he believed to be microwriting – specifically Latin shorthand strokes. The intense effort of doing this seems to have sent Newbold to an early grave, followed by posthumous debunking to the point that he is now often cited as the worst possible way of doing cipher research: which is not a good end to any historical story.

Here, though, we have something that Newbold didn’t have: the possibility of better images. So rather than institute yet another dreary bout of back-and-forth comment tennis, why don’t we just see if we can get a higher-resolution (and higher bit-depth) scan of the photograph in the newspaper archive and see if we can work with that instead? If there is microwriting there, it should come out clearly. If there isn’t, it should vanish completely.

43 thoughts on “The Rubaiyat note and Gordon Cramer’s “Q”…

  1. I think maybe Newbold saw Greek.

  2. bdid1dr on March 24, 2015 at 11:06 pm said:

    Nick: For several years, now, I have been following your posts in re ‘Somerton’ man. Because my children consider me to be a paranoid ex-wife of their father, I have to be careful with names.
    Have you had a chance to follow up a lead I gave to you several months ago? Somewhere there should be a record or mention of the disappearance of one of the scientists who were negotiating with Australian authorities for the purchase of uranium — for use in developing the “Atomic Bomb” at their White Sands (New Mexico) facility. Several of the scientists worked on the “Manhattan Project” when its headquarters were relocated to Chicago (prior to developing the bomb at White Sands). The man disappeared shortly before the appearance of the dead man on Somerton Beach.
    This may appear as garbled information or outrageous misinformation. My apologies — I have the privacy of four generations to preserve. There are too many ‘coincidences’ for me to ignore. So, I’m hoping you may be able to contact the AEC for any information (new?) which they might be able to divulge. Another source of information would be the University of Chicago (original headquarters for the Manhattan Project).
    BTW U-Chicago still keeps track of persons who received bomb by-products (cobalt-60) radiation treatments for various maladies (mine being a cleft soft palate).

  3. Anton Alipov on March 25, 2015 at 12:06 pm said:

    Where’s the word “SEGA”? Is this a joke or I miss something?

  4. Anton Alipov: if you look halfway along the top curve of the letter ‘Q’, you can see “SEGA” apparently written inside the line just over halfway across the image. But do I believe there was microwriting saying “SEGA” in the original image? No, I don’t. (But for what it’s worth. Gordon Cramer and Pete Bowes both read the same stretch as “35XCA”, make of that what you will.)

    My technical opinion is that if you blur and sharpen any noisy image enough times in succession, letters will inevitably appear to coalesce from the haze.

  5. Process akin to listening for ghosts in audio recordings, or “backward” words. One can find what’s required.

  6. Don: “Paul’s dead man, miss him, miss him”, apparently. I was at a bar with William Campbell the other day, he told me it was all 100% true. 😉

  7. Anton Alipov on March 25, 2015 at 7:35 pm said:

    OK, I think I can see it. The images are quite small in your post, but with several times Ctrl+ there’s indeed something like “SEGA”.

    Well, sorry I think that even my “findings” of “undiscussed marginalia” in the Voynich Manuscript are more sound than that 😆 The similar problem there: it’s very easy to mistake parchment structure and aging for traces of human letters. That’s the problem of working with scans. When you have the original of the item in question, then even with naked eye you are more successful, because you can have good light and look at it at different angles.

  8. Gordon on March 25, 2015 at 7:51 pm said:

    No great surprise Nick. As per your posts on my site, you had made your mind up ahead of your experiment. You will not get the result I have unless you follow the instructions that I published. SEGA did make me smile though. The markings beneath the letter Q are quite definitely on the original code document and it was and is those same markings that you see on my image of the Q which clearly shows 35 XCA. Maybe a challenge for Byron to see whether that was a motor vehicle registration number at the time or perhaps even an aircraft registration?

  9. Gordon: if that’s all you have to say to someone who has taken the time and effort to try to replicate your results, all I can sensibly do is to wish you good luck finding anyone else foolish enough to try the same thing.

  10. Person A wanted to pass a secret message to person B by means of a miniature cipher written in the form of capital letters on the back of a book’s dustcover – the letters were later overpainted, then photographed …. recent, detailed examination of the photograph has shown a clear line of characters within one of capital letters.
    In order to discuss this in an orderly fashion perhaps you might like to start at the top, dome, and we can work our way through it.

  11. Misca on March 26, 2015 at 3:40 am said:

    bdid1dr – With all due respect – trying to find the scientist who disappeared is like trying to find SM himself. Over 100,000 people worked on the Manhattan project and those “purchasing” uranium generally can’t be found.

    If mentioning this person compromises you or your family, perhaps you don’t want him to be found?

    If finding him is of interest and doesn’t compromise you, perhaps you could be a little bit more clear?


  12. .. an amendment – ‘an impression of the letters was later overpainted, then photographed.
    My point being that nobody knows whether they are looking at the dustcover or the back cover.

  13. Gordon on March 26, 2015 at 10:51 am said:

    Well very honestly Nick all it seems to show is that you do not understand the method that I explained to you, you did not follow the steps. I don’t wish you any harm Nick, I have said before that I think you’re a particularly bright person and I admire the work you do in other areas. However I do feel that in this case you are still out of your depth as you were with the Police fingerprint and Photography issues some months ago.
    Your work, in this case, is full of generalities and lacks substance you neglected to include the image I had posted and you were unable to show any examples of the effects that you claim occur. It is nieve to think that people with even a rudimentary knowledge of image analysis would limit their thinking to the use of brightness and contrast and image sharpeneing you really must use combinations of backlighting, oblique lighting and UV lighting and then work on improving the image that you find. In the case of the Q, there was no zooming in or contrast applied, this was a straightforward macro image and I used the techniques explained to you. It was you who posted and stated you would just ignore those steps and now you loudly proclaim that it doesn’t work. Surprise surprise, if all else fails follow the instructions.You failed to put forward a substantial and well argued case and that’s the bottom line so go ahead and rant and rave in your usual fashion but all you’ll get from me is a knowing Not smile 🙂 Take care mate, I still think you have a lot to offer.

  14. Gordon: as I explicitly said in the post, I have no desire to engage in yet more comment tennis, so let’s just get a better quality scan so that we can put this whole issue to bed once and for all. That would be a far more constructive use of everyone’s time.

  15. the grey man: from where I’m sitting, the whole Somerton-Man-as-spy edifice seems now to be balanced upon whether the microwriting is there or not. Having tried to reproduce Gordon’s results, my (computer science-informed) conclusion is that there is no microwriting at all where he thinks there is, only noise: but rather than simply take my word (and indeed Derek Abbott’s) for that, I instead suggested that we now try to get a better quality scan. Does that sound sensible to you?

    Once we reach an agreement on the microwriting, we can move “in an orderly fashion” to the rest, see where we get to.

  16. bdid1dr on March 26, 2015 at 4:17 pm said:

    Nuclear weaponry. Touchy subject at best. Dreadful history at its worst.
    So, if all we can do is apologise for the instantaneous ‘vaporization’ of thousands of civilians (in Japan)
    so be it. Just imagine the repercussions/retaliations which might occur even 50 or more years later. Some effects are still being felt (here in the US, anyway, including Hawaii).
    The rape of Nanking, also is not forgotten.
    So, perhaps some of your Australian friends may remember the attacks on Alice Springs.
    There is also the battles and starving prisoners-of-war in Indonesia.
    So, the military action in Vietnam is relatively mild?
    Then we have troops in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is “all about” rare earths/minerals being sold to the highest bidders for use in the electronic communications and satellite industries.
    So, was “Somerton Man” possibly only part of a team which were trying to obtain another “rare earth” for military use?

    So: Spy versus Spy–paranoia — or is it still going on?

  17. The grey man on March 26, 2015 at 9:29 pm said:

    You might also want to check that the ‘hugely likely’ evidence of the original lettering is not part of a patina of scratches on the back dustcover, and bearing in mind that possibility are you intending to subject your own findings to a wider review?

  18. The grey man: I’m not interested in speculation about what might or might not be there, I just want to have a higher resolution and deeper bitdepth raw scan made available to everyone, so that we can all have a discussion about what actually is there.

    Incidentally, the odd thing about what I called the “hugely likely” original thin lettering is that no amount of image processing I have tried to do with it has made it visible where it is apparently obscured by the (rather fatter) laundry pen. So we have the paradox that even though Gordon thinks he can read the microwriting through the laundry pen layer, I can’t even make out the original line beneath it. Make of that experiment what you will.

  19. The grey man on March 26, 2015 at 9:54 pm said:

    This is your own speculation, your trump card. It is there to be seen by us all … I’m asking whether there are similar examples under the other letters thet support your claim?

  20. The grey man: it’s not a trump card or speculation, just about any computer scientist will tell you that using image enhancement to try to read something right at the edge of perceptibility is something like 100x less reliable than getting a better scan and using your eyes. So let’s get a better scan.

  21. “For instance, it seems hugely likely to me that we can see a small part of the original writing that (one would hope) lies beneath the laundry pen marks…”

    If that isn’t speculation I’ll leave you to your own conceit …

  22. the grey man: yes, it is indeed speculation. But it’s extraordinarily mild speculation based on clearly visible marks on the page that nobody need do any lengthy image manipulation in order to see.

  23. Gordon on March 27, 2015 at 6:26 pm said:

    Damn these spies, why don’t they make things easy to find? Anybody would think they were purposefully making it difficult. 🙂

  24. Gordon: if you think spies are bad, you ought to try imaginary spies. Now they can make things really difficult to find. 😉

  25. The grey man on March 27, 2015 at 9:39 pm said:

    Then you and Gordon are at a speculative check, you see one thing and he sees another –

  26. guest33 on June 19, 2015 at 5:38 am said:

    Voynich also believed the manuscript contained micro-writing in his older years; mostly paranoid and mind weariness, not micro writing.

  27. Tricia on June 19, 2015 at 8:56 am said:

    according to some modern, competent and independent palaographers, there is ‘micrography’ in the Voynich manuscript. Micrography doesn’t mean you need a microscope. It means writing a third or less of the main text’s letter-heights.

  28. Diane on June 19, 2015 at 9:01 am said:

    Tricia – you might be interested in a post that I’ve written as part of a re-evaluation of the manuscript, and of the árcher-figure on folio 73v. In the last post for the ‘Sagittarius’ (which should appear on July 2nd), I show some micrography in a Sagittarius from a Caroline (Carolingian) copy of the Aratea. I have no idea what it says – all positive contributions welcome.

  29. Bill on July 9, 2015 at 1:11 am said:

    Micro-writing doesn’t make any sense. At all. Aside from the fact that this microwriting apparently appears in something written with a human hand (as opposed to in a printed work) itself is a little odd (google for images of microwriting, and basically the only “hidden in handwriting” microwriting you’ll see are about Tamam Shud (and mainly from Gordon’s site, I think).

    But aside from all of that, what does it achieve?

    The purpose of microwriting is to hide stuff in plain site. It makes no sense whatsoever to have a cryptic note with microtext embedded – because the cryptic note will attract attention (better something totally explainable like “bread, milk, …” that will be dismissed as a shopping list).
    Surely the purpose of microwriting is akin to the purpose of encryption – to hide the message, but anyone who uses microwriting in this manner would assume (quite reasonably) that it’s presence in such a work will never be detected (eg there’d be no point encrypting text twice – and the intended security here is in the size, not the encryption), so there is no reason to further encrypt it. That is, the idea of microwriting saying “SEGA” (were it not for the reason that it didn’t exist yet) would actually make far more sense than something cryptic like “35 XCA”.

    While I have some interest in cryptography, the most plausible answer for mine is one that Nick has mentioned earlier – that this is some sort of rudimentary prompt for a love poem someone’d written….(and the last AB really appear to have a flourish – and before people say Alfred Boxall, there’s nothing to suggest that SM might not also have had initials AB)

    The structure, mistyped line and length all point at it, and I like the notion that the line MLIA… (which was so on his mind he was going to use it as the second line) is something like “My Love (or life) is always…” (and the Q = Queen, or Quickly or Quite or Question) (not convinced the C after the Q is intended).

    I also like the notion (not entirely consistent with the Poem idea, but not so far detached from it that we couldn’t fit it in) that the last line is:
    “I’ll try to move to SA (South Australia) – Moseley St, Glenelg – AB”

    (the language is awkward, but if it wasn’t for the difficulty in rhyming Glenelg it would seem like the sort of cumbersome line that someone writes in an attempt to fit into some sort of poetic scansion – although MSG could also be “My Sweet Girl” or something like that too….

  30. Diane on July 9, 2015 at 7:01 am said:

    Dear Bill,
    I think you heard ‘micgrography’ in terms of modern spy-craft. In terms of medieval manuscript studies, it means writing less than a quarter the size of the manuscript’s ordinary hand.

    Micrography is well known. It was a Jewish speciality, but not limited to them – we have examples from some Persian manuscripts, Arabic manuscripts and I doubt that the one I’ve found is the only example in a Latin manuscript.

    I’m not sure what you mean by it’s “not making sense”. It is a simple fact, and micrography itself is perfectly sensible in the historical context.

    Or did you mean that the inscription I mentioned on that (non-Voynich) medieval image makes no sense in Latin?

  31. Diane on July 9, 2015 at 7:04 am said:

    on re-reading your comment, I think it was not a response to the previous two comments. If so, apologies for what must seem a non-sequitur.

  32. Bill on July 9, 2015 at 11:18 pm said:

    yeah, sorry Diane – should have been more clear. Wasn’t responding to a comment, more the idea that the text discovered in the Rubiayat would contain microwriting (or perhaps more pertinently, the writing that had TRACED the pencil markings would contain microwriting).

    I was (vaguely) aware of the concept of micrography in terms of small (but visible) writing – but took microwriting to be more “spy-craft” (if you like) – which I understood to be the claim by Gordon (and others, no doubt). Suffice it to say, I’m not sure how one might embed such small writing in a pencil stroke (or even a texta stroke) – especially when we’re talking 1950s…..I think one has to be a long way up Conspiracy St (hopefully noone yet has come up with the idea that this is all to do with faked moon landings some years later in the South Australian outback 8) ).

  33. Just a couple of thoughts: first, the ‘W’s are so awkwardly formed, I’m wondering if the person was not familiar with forming the letter. A number of languages that had changed to using Latin letters don’t have ‘W’, some from Eastern Europe, formerly using the Cyrillic alphabet. I’m inclining to the inscription being English, and tend towards the first letter of each word and possibly poetry – it would form two couplets. Hence my other thought – the crossed out line: perhaps the person thought of a second couplet that would express more, or perhaps they started to write the ‘MLIABO’ line, realised they had mis-written it as ‘MLIAO-‘ and upon consideration continued with the three subsequent lines. These points probably have been made already, but I hadn’t seen them on my trawl through a few sites.

  34. Akute: bear in mind that what we’re looking at is almost certainly the South Australian Police’s reconstruction of the letters from a UV photograph, that itself had been taken to help make visible the indentations on the back page of the Rubaiyat. That is, they used something like a laundry pen to mark up a photograph, and then took a photograph of their reconstructive handiwork. Hence we’re not actually looking at anyone’s handwriting, but at SAPOL’s attempted reconstruction of writing-like marks (which is quite a different thing).

    The crossed-out line indeed looks as though it was written out of sequence, and also missing the B- word. All of which gives credence to the suggestion that this page was being composed (e.g. writing a poem) rather than copied down from an external source (e.g. from a Morse Code transmission).

  35. Nick – so the writing isn’t actually present on the book (which is now missing/destroyed, I gather?) but indentations from a note written using the book as backing? Or possibly from a blank page at the back of the book removed/torn out? That makes it much more difficult.

  36. Akute: yes – as I understand it, the (thin) back cover had been removed but the final back internal page was still there (with the ‘Tamam Shud’ torn out by hand, and the indentations from writing on the back cover that was no longer there).

    So we are (I’m pretty sure) looking at a digital scan of a (lost) photograph of a (lost) marked-up UV photograph of (hard-to-see) indentations left by writing made on a back cover that was removed, all from a (lost) book that was found on the floor of someone’s car (who remains anonymous to this day).

    Just so you’re clear!

  37. Rick A. Roberts on February 3, 2016 at 7:17 am said:

    Regarding the five lines of cipher . I believe that you read each line from right to left . The first line is ” D B A B A O G R M “, or ” TAMAM SHUD ” . The second line that is lined through is ” I O A I L M “, or ” P S M P T D “, ” POISON SAMPLE EMPTIED ” . The third line is ” P T E N A P M I B T M “, or ” U E Y N M U D P A E D “, ” MONEY DUE PAID ” . The fourth line is ” C Q A I A O B A I L M “, or ” SAMPLE EMPTIED ” . The fifth line reads, ” B A G T S M A S T M T T I “, or ” A M H E R D M R E D E E P “, ” A DEEP MEHDR MRE “, or ” A DEEP MURDER MYSTERY ” . I think that the person who wrote this went back and lined out the second line after realizing that the fourth line was repetitive .

  38. petebowes on February 3, 2016 at 10:00 am said:

    ‘Hard indentations’ left by what sort of writing? Block capitals, alpha characters, cursive characters, whole words, numerics?

  39. petebowes: without having a copy of the photograph that the laundry-pen-style markings were added to, we can only guess. It looks like we can see some faint markings, but these too might have been initial police pencil marks on the original, it’s hard to say. 🙁

    In an ideal world, the Australian Navy would have kept a file copy of whatever the South Australian Police sent to it, which I would guess would have included a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ image. But I haven’t had any luck trying to find out if there are any files from that era: when I checked the biography of Eric Nave (who was without any real doubt the Aussie super-code-breaker who this would have been passed to), the files around 1948ish went a bit sparse. But that’s not to say there’s nothing there… it’s just hard to find.

    It’s also possible that Jimmy Durham’s family may still have one or more albums of his best photographs in the attic somewhere. A relative gave a talk to an Australian Police Society a few years back, but when I asked people there, they had lost his contact details along the way. That’s also still an avenue worth pursuing, though.

  40. Milongal on February 3, 2016 at 10:13 pm said:

    The microwriting wouldn’t make sense IMHO. For it to be plausible we’d have to have picked up indentations through a page (I’d imagine a large part of the skill in microwriting is “softly softly”), which has then survived all the police techniques to preserve/record it….and we’re lead to believe when they traced a copy or photo of it with marker, some of these micro-characters were preserved….?

    I’m at least as skeptical as you – it’s poppy-cock!

  41. Milongal on May 1, 2016 at 11:58 pm said:

    I notice that the micro-writing is now apparently appearing on everything ever touched by this case.
    Aside from the fact that the technique apparently used to uncover the codes are (in my opinion) somewhere between questionable and impossible, if you take a step back it makes no sense whatsoever.
    – One of the advantages of microwriting is that it allows you to be verbose…..that you don’t need to shorten things to cryptic acronyms (like SEGA/3XCA/whatever), but can use fuller language (not necessarily longwinded prose, of course).
    – The purpose of any microwriting is surely for someone else to be able to read the message. Vague hints of indecipherable lettering doesn’t really seem to fit the bill. From what I’ve seen on the blogspot site (which doesn’t seem to publish nay-saying comments) the size of the microwriting is far smaller than they even admit possible – and once they get carried away with zoom they seem to forget how zoomed in they are, and how small the original must be. Further, I can’t help but be incredibly skeptical about a process good enough to [b]definitively[/b] show the presence of microwriting, but not in enough quality to be legible/decipherable.
    – The letters on the page make no sense in the presence of microwriting. Anything that needed to be concealed could be concealed by microwriting and the “MLBIAO” stuff only serves to attract attention. In isolation, I might buy it (although I’d still feel it’s implausible) but once microwriting starts appearing all throughout the Rubaiyat it’s hard to explain why MLBIAO was needed (if it was an attempt at misdirection, why would it have micro on it itself?).
    – The method they use to find the writing simply doesn’t make sense to me. While I concede I might be misunderstanding it a little, I don’t really understand how a printout (even of a very hi-res image) would have enough detail of colour depth for this all to work – further, where do these high res pictures come from (at best they are a hi-res picture of a picture of a tracing (possibly across multiple surfaces/media)? Further, we’re lead to believe that this microwriting (at least on MLBIAO [for some reason I increasingly read that as Me Laugh my Bloody Ass Off]) occured under the texta writing (which was a tracing of pencil/pen writing which is a lot thinner). So even if we go with the “it was written in invisible ink made from lemon juice” (for what purpose?) why then does it need to follow the line of the letters (if you are treating the paper with chemicals to make stuff appear, you don’t need lines to mark where the interesting stuff is going to be).

    It would take rather a lot to convince me that the idea of microwriting as presented is anything more than an over-active imagination.
    NB: I love the “AFIO disclaimer” which (IMO) is used to try to give more credence, but simply comes across as pretentious.

  42. Milongal: everything about the MLBIAO scan leads me to conclude that the black writing was not present on the original Rubaiyat page, but was added to a (probably IR?) photograph of it by SAPOL using something like a laundry pen. Hence there is no way that we could be looking at microwriting there, because any putative microwriting on the Rubaiyat page itself would have been covered over by those pen marks.

    In summary: to date I have seen no proof that the Rubaiyats hold any microwriting, and I’m not expecting to see any any time soon.

    Furthermore: to date I have seen no evidence that connects the Somerton Man to spying or espionage in any way, shape or form, and I’m not expecting to see any any time soon either.

  43. Milongal on May 2, 2016 at 10:35 pm said:

    We agree Nick. I’ve never understood how we can transfer microwriting (which would be very light touch of the pencil or whatever you scratch with) to another page – let alone whatever process was used to actually make the writing appear in black (most likely as you’ve suggested in the past, on a glass overlay with some sort of marker). Even if we were to believe that such a transfer was possible, it is a neat coincidence that the (alleged) mico-writing nicely fills the width of the marker, not the original pencil or pen (or whatever) that would presumably have been considerably narrower.

    But I agree the micro-writing doesn’t agree with me, and the espionage theories on the whole seem a bit romanticized (when there are many more mundane explanations) – Lord only knows what people would make of the contents of my bag/wallet/pockets if they found me dead in the street, yet all of it has a nice boring explanation. So I’ll not mention the little letter again 🙂

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