German cipher blogger/author Klaus Schmeh will be in London this weekend, so I’m setting up a Voynich pub meet in his honour. As long as he promises not to make Lego tableaux of the participants, as he did for Henry Debosnys

nsa-symposium-01-debosnys

…and the Zodiac Killer (link in German)…

nsa-symposium-03-zodiac

Not that we’re all, errrm, cipher-obsessed serial killers or anything. 😉

Anyway, the plan is to meet up around 7pm on Sunday (i.e. 30th October 2016) at the historic Thameside Prospect of Whitby in Wapping, not too far from where pirates were hung in the bad old days. (Though these days, the biggest pirates in London seem to get ever higher CEO salaries, please don’t ask me to explain how that works.) Princess Margaret, Charles Dickens and Samuel Pepys all visited the Prospect of Whitby (says Wikipedia), a sleb list that is hard to argue with. 🙂

As to where we’ll be: if you go from the street into the pub, carry straight ahead then turn left just past the bar, then in front of you at the end, you should see a set of doors leading out to a pub garden / patio area. Which is where (if the weather is tolerably OK) we’ll meet up. Unless it’s all been redeveloped into chi-chi flats since we were last there.

Alternatively, if it’s raining so hard that it looks like the Gods want everyone in London to be washed into the Thames, we’ll be indoors somewhere, hopefully admiring someone’s shiny new copy of Yale University Press’s “The Voynich Manuscript” photo-facsimile, and arguing about exactly how bad/good/meh the essays are.

Hope to see you there! 🙂

Sorry for the short notice, but über-cipher-mystery The Voynich Manuscript is featuring prominently on an episode of “Castle Secrets & Legends” on the Travel Channel UK (Freeview channel 42) at 9pm tomorrow, i.e. 16th May 2014. It’s also playing on The Travel Channel Europe about now as well, if you happen to be elsewhere in our beloved United States of Europe EU. The blurb goes like this:-

“Behind the gates of the world’s most impressive castles, manor houses and mansions, many secrets are waiting to be revealed. Marvel at these amazing structures in all their glory and hear of the remarkable, mysterious and bizarre tales tied to the rich and powerful who once resided there.”

Yada yada yada. *sigh* All the same, there’s a reasonable chance they’ll have taken some nice footage of Villa Mondragone, which genuinely is an astonishing place in a wonderful location. If so, it’ll definitely be worth recording. Cryptography Schmyptography, eye candy wins out every time, right?

Word just arrived here by breathless carrier pigeon (well, the little chap had flown from Italy, after all) about a conference in Gotha on 14th-16th February 2013 (yes, this very week!) on historical cryptography. And here’s the rather nice conference artwork:-

gotha-conference-small

Lots of interesting sessions on all manner of European historical stuff, such as from top Italian cipher-breaker Filippo Sinagra, who you may remember from the Nat Geo “Ancient X-Files” Voynich half-episode not so long ago. Filippo’s talk is on Sforza-era cryptography, for which he patiently trawled through the Milanese archives (he very kindly passed me scans a while back). Fascinating stuff that’s right up my street, I just wish I could be there (though sadly that’s not possible this particular time, oh well!)

There’s also a talk on historical code-breaking methodology (or, more accurately, the apparent lack of anything like one) being given by a certain German cipher skeptic – yes, it is indeed that man again, Klaus Schmeh. His introduction notes that: “Publications devoted to the particular methods of cryptanalysis regarding historical ciphers are rare. The presence of numerous works in which decrypted historic secret texts are presented should not obscure the fact that a comprehensive theory is lacking in this area.” Amen to that, Brother Klaus!

Another nice thing is that Christiane Schaefer will be discussing the Copiale Cipher (which she, Beáta Megyesi and Kevin Knight successfully broke) and her team’s follow-on project, an “interactive digital platform” called “CADMUS” for early modern cryptology. All of which sounds a lot like a call to European historians to send them your enciphered early modern documents and they’ll crack ’em… or you could just send them to me c/o Cipher Mysteries, that would work too. 😉

But perhaps the wild-card of the conference will prove to be Dr. Michael Korey, whose session is intriguingly entitled “Hidden steganography and burned substitution. Some little‐known cypher equipment from the cabinet of curiosities (Kunstkammer) of Dresden”. The description (which I hope it’s ok to reproduce here) goes like this:-

“In the middle of the 16th century, the German territories were considered to be not very progressive by foreign countries in regard to their ability to encrypt their messages or decrypt those sent by others. Matteo Argenti, secretary of cyphers at the Vatican, said the Germans and their neighbours understood so little about cyphers that they preferred to shred and burn the encoded dispatches they received instead of trying to decrypt them. In retrospect, this assessment seems quite premature, considering two pieces coming from the electoral Saxon cabinet of curiosities (Kunstkammer), that so far have not attracted much attention and will be presented here.”

It should be no surprise that I rather like the sound of that. Ummm… I hope someone takes a photo or two (hint, Klaus, *cough*). 🙂

For everyone going, I hope you have a great time, it looks like a great conference!

Much as you’d expect, YouTube user weasel6666 (not me, not even slightly!) has uploaded WAGtv’s “Ancient X-Files” Series 2 Episode 4 “Sodom and Gomorrah” episode that aired on National Geographic UK only a couple of days ago. If you fast forward to 22:00, you can see the Voynich Manuscript half, which is loosely based on reprising the research I did for my 2006 book “The Curse of the Voynich” (copies still available, very reasonable postage rates, etc).

Even if you’re one of the many who don’t agree with my art history conclusions (but given that you’ll all get there in the end, I’m cool with that 🙂 ), enjoy the historical ride to Venice and Milan, and have a look-see at all the fabulous things I was able to get to for the first time, thanks to the magic of having a film crew filming my every damn move for a week. 🙂

I think it’s fair to say that the WAG team recorded enough footage for a 2-hour special and then tried to edit it down into a 22 minute half-episode slot: which in a curious way is a fair representation of my book, which similarly should probably have worked through its material at a far more leisurely pace (say, over 500 pages) than jammed into 230 pages.

But all the same… how was it for you? Leave your comments below…

A few days ago I promised you my post-Frascati thoughts on the Voynich Manuscript radiocarbon dating. Errrm… little did I know quite what I was letting myself in for. It’s been a fairly bumpy ride. 🙁

Just so you know, the starting point here isn’t ‘raw data’, strictly speaking. The fraction of radioactive carbon-14 remaining (as determined by the science) first needs to be adjusted to its effective 1950 value so that it can be cross-referenced against the various historical calibration tables, such as “IntCal09” etc. The “corrected fraction” value is therefore the fraction of radioactive carbon-14 that would have been remaining in the sample had it been sampled in 1950 rather than (in this case) 2009. Though annoying, this pre-processing stage is basically automatic and hence largely unremarkable.

So, the (nearly) raw Voynich data looks like this:

Folio / language / corrected fraction modern [standard deviation]
f8 / Herbal-A / 0.9409 [0.0044]
f26 / Herbal-B / 0.9380 [0.0041]
f47 / Herbal-A / 0.9389 [0.0041]
f68 / Cosmo-A / 0.9338 [0.0041]

What normally happens next is that these corrected fraction data are converted to an uncalibrated fake date BP (‘Before Present’, i.e. years before 1950), based purely on the theoretical radiocarbon half-life decay period: for example, the f8 sample would have an uncalibrated radiocarbon date of “490±37BP” (i.e. “1460±37”).

However, this is a both confusing and unhelpful aspect of the literature because we’re only really interested in the calibrated radiocarbon dates, as read off the curves painstakingly calibrated against several thousand years of tree rings; so I prefer to omit it. Hence in the following I stick to corrected fractional values (e.g. 0.9409) or their straightforward percentage equivalents (e.g. 94.09%): even though these are equivalent to uncalibrated radiocarbon dates, I feel that mixing two different kinds of radiocarbon dates within single sentences is far too prone to confusion and error. It’s hard enough already without making it any harder. 🙁

The problem with the calibration curves in the literature is that they aren’t ‘monotonic’, i.e. they kick up and down. This means that many individual (input) radiocarbon fraction observations end up yielding two or more parallel (output) date ranges, making using them as a basis for historical reasoning both tricky and frustrating.

Yet as Greg Hodgins described in his Frascati talk, radiocarbon daters are mainly in the business of disproving things rather than proving things. In this case, you might say that all radiocarbon dating has achieved is to finally disprove Wilfrid Voynich’s suggestion that Roger Bacon wrote the Voynich Manuscript… an hypothesis that hasn’t been genuinely proposed for a couple of decades or so.

Of course, Voynich researchers are constantly looking out for ways in which they can use or combine contentious / subtle data to build better historical arguments: and so for them radiocarbon dating is merely one of many such datasets to be explored. In this instance, the science has produced four individual observations (for the four carefully treated vellum slivers), each with its own probability curve.

The obvious desire here is to find a way of reliably combining all four observations into a single, more reliable, composite meta-observation. The two specific formulae Greg Hodgins lists for doing this are:-

So, I built these formulae into a spreadsheet, yielding a resultant composite fractional value for all four of 0.93779785, with a standard deviation of 0.004169. I’m pretty certain this yields the headline date-range of 1404-1438 with 95% confidence (i.e. ±2 sigma) quoted just about everywhere since 2009. But… is it valid?

Well… as with almost everything in the statistical toolbox, I’m pretty sure that this requires that the underlying observations being merged exhibit ‘normality’ (i.e. that they broadly look like simple bell curves). Yet if you look at the four probabilistic dating curves, the earliest calibrated date (on f68) yields two distinct dating ‘humps’, whereas the latest calibrated date (on f8) has almost no chance of falling within the earlier dating hump. This means that the four distributions range from normal-like (with a single mean) to heteroscedastic (with multiple distinct means).

Now, the idea of having formulae to calculate weighted means and standard deviations is to combine a set of individual (yet distinct) populations being sampled into a single larger population, using the increased information content to get tighter constraints on the results. However, I’m not convinced that this is a valid assumption, because we are very likely sampling vellum taken from a number of different animal skins, very possibly produced under a variety of conditions at a number of different times.

Another problem is that we are trying to use probability distributions to do “double duty”, in that we often have a multiplicity of local means to choose between (and we can’t tell which sub-distribution any individual sample should belong to) as well as a kind of broadly normal-like distribution for each local mean. This is mixing scenario evaluation with probability evaluation, and both end up worse off for it.

A further problematic area here is that corrected fractional input values have a non-linear relationship with their output results, which means that a composite fractional mean will typically be different from a composite dating value.

A yet further problem is that we’re dealing with a very small number of samples, leaving any composite value susceptible to being excessively influenced by outliers.

As far as this last point goes, I have two specific concerns:
* Rene Zandbergen mentioned (and Greg confirmed) that one of the herbal bifolios was specifically selected for its thickness, in order (as I understand it) to try to give a reliable value after applying solvents. Yet when I examined the Voynich at the Beinecke back in 2006, there was a single bifolio in the whole manuscript that was significantly thicker than the others – in fact, it felt as though it had been made in a completely different way to the other vellum leaves. As I recall, it was not far from folio #50: was it f47? If that was selected, was it representative of the rest of the bifolios, or was it an outlier?
* The 2009 ORF documentary (around 44:36) shows Greg Hodgins slicing off a thin sliver from the edge of f68r3 (the ‘Pleiades’ panel), with the page apparently facing away from him. But if you look just a little closer at the scans, you’ll see that this is extremely close to a section of the page edge that has been very heavily handled over the years, far more so than much of the manuscript. This was also right at the edge of a multi-panel foldout, which raises the likelihood that it would have been close to an animal’s armpit. Personally, I would have instead looked for pristine sections of vellum that had no obvious evidence of heavy handling: picking the outside edge of f68 seems to be a mistake, possibly motivated more by ease of scientific access than by good historical practice.

As I said to Greg Hodgins in Frascati, my personal experience of stats is that it is almost impossible to design a statistical experiment properly: the shortcomings of what you’ve done typically only become apparent once you’ve tried to work with the data (i.e. once it’s too late to run it a second time). The greater my experience with stats has become, the more I hold this observation to be painfully self-evident: the real world causality and structure underlying the data you’re aiming to collect is almost without exception far trickier than you initially suspect – and I can see no good reason to believe that the Voynich Manuscript would be any kind of exception to this general rule.

I’m really not claiming to be some kind of statistical Zen Master here: rather, I’m just pointing out that if you want to make big claims for your statistical inferences, you really need to take an enormous amount of care about your experimental methodology and your inferential machinery – and right now I’m struggling to get even remotely close to the level of certainty claimed here. But perhaps I’ll have been convinced otherwise by the time I write Part Two… 🙂

If you simply can’t bear the idea of waiting a whole week until National Geographic airs its Voynich half-episode of “Ancient X-Files” in the UK, then you now have the option of watching the French dubbed version (courtesy of DailyMotion). Fast forward the time-slider to 22:00 to see a whole load of Venetian & Milanese Averlino Voynich theory stuff, including Francesco da Mosto doing his delightful historian thing. Love that guy.

I should perhaps also add that if you can’t find the UK airing of the same episode in your various TV channel guides, it may be (a) because it’s listed under “Sodom and Gomorrah” (which occupies the first half of the show), and (b) because the half with me in is listed as focusing on the “Voyinch Manuscript” *sigh*. Perhaps I spent last week at the Livva Mongradone in Crasfati, too, and never realised it. Oh well!

PS: my behind-the-scenes page is here, if you somehow managed to miss that.

…though not at all from the nice Frascati DOC we were pleasantly plied with at lunchtime on the Friday.

No: rather, my head is still buzzing from the giant mass of tangled, fascinating stuff that came my way – some from the presentations, but a lot from conversations and spirited debates. So alas, anyone hoping that I’ll post some kind of a conference-in-a-nutshell micro-report here is going to be sadly disappointed: it’s going to take me months to work through it all, there’s just too much.

So, in no particular order, what you broadly have to look forward to is:
* My reflections on the radiocarbon dating
* Voynich and the Rosicrucians (yes, really!)
* Rich SantaColoma’s ‘Optical Instruments Hypothesis’ (but radically revisited)
* Claudio Foti’s new ‘Poggio Bracciolini’ hypothesis
* Rafal Prinke’s news on Baresch & Sinapius
* Rene Zandbergen’s discussion of Carl Widemann
* Johannes Albus’s new angle on f116v’s maddening marginalia
* Why I think Voynich statistics are a roadblock, not a bridge
* The three next big challenges – scans, error rates, language mapping
* etc

PS: having said all that, if you were there and have any neat photographs you’d like to share, please upload them to one of the many filesharing sites out there and send me through a link to them, as it would be quite nice to put together a bit of a visual walkthrough here. (Thanks Karsten for your photos!)

WAGtv’s “Ancient X-Files” Voynich episode will first air at 20:40 on 10th May 2012 on the National Geographic channel in France, where the series has been retitled “De l’ombre à la lumière“. Though the episode is entitled “Sodom and Gomorrah” (“Sodome et Gomorrhe” in French), be reassured that 50% of it is the Voynich part. 🙂

And by a nice coincidence which Nat Geo’s schedulers seem, errrm, mostly unaware of, this is also when I shall be in Frascati preparing for the upcoming Voynich Centenary conference the following day. It’s time to tell some of the story behind the documentary…

1. “The Curse of the Voynich” Meets WAGtv…

Back in 2006, the general consensus was that the Voynich Manuscript was an extraordinary late 16th century hoax, constructed to part an extraordinary fool (Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II) from his extraordinary money (600 gold ducats). And without the 2009 radiocarbon dating (which dated its vellum to 1404-1438 with 95% confidence) to help ground the whole debate, the Voynich was arguably even more like a blank historical canvas (upon which you can paint whatever theory you like) than it is today. Sad, really.

2006 was also the year that I wrote and published “The Curse of the Voynich” (copies still available, and at very reasonable air mail rates 😀 ), with the aim of summing up the research I had built up over several years – basically, that the Voynich Manuscript may well have been written by Northern Italian Quattrocento architect Antonio Averlino (better known as “Filarete).

However, put these two things together and it should be no great surprise that, a couple of nicely appreciative reviews aside, my tree of research fell onto the Voynich research community’s forest floor with a deafening silence. (If, indeed, it fell at all.) Personally, I still think my book is a great piece of historical detective work (I posted a nice summary of it here), but I suspect it remains too “out there” for almost all Voynich researchers, most of whom seem to rely more on lightweight inductive logic than on the kind of heavyweight hyper-deduction I had to employ. 🙂

Fast forward to early 2010, when London-based factual television production house WAGtv were working on the the first series of Ancient X Files for National Geographic. Their producers approached me to ask if I would contribute to a 22-minute documentary segment based on “The Curse of the Voynich”: though it just missed the cut for series 1, I was delighted to be able to take part when they subsequently wanted to include it in series 2.

This whole Voynich segment was filmed over five days last summer [2011] in locations centrally linked to Antonio Averlino’s life and works, such as the Ospedale Maggiore & Castello Sforzesco in Milan, and the Campanile in Venice (looking down onto the onion domes of St Mark’s Basilica). Just so you know, the televisual conceit was to visually reconstruct the evidence chain and associated reasoning that led to my whole Averlino theory. In case your inner historian finds this somewhat annoying, please take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that “it’s just television” – if you want to read up on it properly, there is at least a 230-page book you can buy that presents all the evidence in a reasonably compelling way. 😉

2. Meet The Experts…

Naturally, there are few things more boring than seeing some random expert (yes, even me) expound to camera for 20+ minutes (which is, of course, why Dr Who always has an assistant). Hence the producers assembled a delightfully eclectic set of experts for me to talk with on camera, basically with the idea of placing the various deductive leaps I patiently ground out of the academic literature into their helpful mouths:-


Filippo Sinagra, a well-known Venetian code-breaker with a lifelong interest in historical & Mafia ciphers;


Stefano Calchi Novati, a Milanese architect (whose motorbike I sadly couldn’t ride because of insurance issues);


Rosa Barovier Mentasti, a thoroughly delightful glassware expert descended from the Murano glassmaker Angelo da Barovier, but whom I somehow managed not to capture on camera (the image is from Mauro Vianello’s nice glass blog);


A magnificent Murano master glassblower whose name unfortunately escapes me, and whose wonderfully rich Venetian accent proved near-impenetrable even to our Italian translator; and…


Well-known Venetian architect and historian Francesco da Mosto, presenter of several top-rated BBC series with the power to make many British women of a certain age swoon unashamedly.

OK, now that we’ve got past all the raw factuality, what really happened while filming?

3. Nine Top Secret Things That Happened On The Shoot

(1) I’d only previously been to Venice out of season (if you’re going, I recommend December), and July 2011 turned out to be a raging heatwave. Despite that, John Blystone (the director) had me marching back and forth across endless Venetian bridges to the point that I nearly got heatstroke, and had to sit down in a quiet corner eating ice cream for an hour while I cooled all the way back down to merely hot. Note that I don’t hold this against him – John’s a driven guy and wanted to get the best possible coverage going into the edit, and if he can make a bald historian bloke like me come out tolerably OK on camera, I have to say he’s pretty much on fire. 🙂

(2) While getting over heatstroke, I found out that Cesira (the translator) used to run short film festivals, though she bemoaned the fact that Italian film-makers were typically so talky that they thought 20 minutes should qualify as ‘short’. I then told her how I used to write stories in 30 words or less as a writing challenge: she didn’t believe that that was even remotely possible, so insisted I write her one there and then. Knowing that the crew was flying on to Rome to film a Da Vinci-related segment, this is what I squeezed into a mere 15 words:-

Not again, Lisa!
What?
Every time you fart, you do that smile.”
Sorry, Maestro Leonardo!

(3) While in the Piazza San Marco, I suddenly noticed that the columns of San Marco and San Theodoro were leaning very slightly towards each other. Luckily I managed to straighten them up before any tourists got crushed by falling stones: an excellent result!

(4) I’d be a lying hound if I didn’t say it was more than a bit of a thrill meeting Francesco da Mosto & his lovely family in their Venetian palazzo, and lightly zipping around the canals with him in his near-iconic blue boat. Francesco is an enthusiastic, positive, laughter-filled big-kid-puppydog of a man that made me want to smile every time he opened his mouth: probably half the shots were ruined because we were having too much fun to look serious in an appropriately documentary-style way. I love the guy to bits, and wish him the very best of luck with finishing his historical novel “The Black King” (which, spookily enough, one online description I read said revolved around John Dee and a mysterious enciphered manuscript).

(5) When we got back to San Marco after filming (and eating late) in Murano, the tide was so high that we couldn’t get a boat into the canal near the apartment (“Casa Cioccolata”, a nice little place). This meant the crew had to carry all the equipment barefoot across the waterlogged piazza in the moonlight: a thoroughly surreal experience!

(6) Once nice thing in Venice which didn’t make it into the final edit was that the newly-restored clock tower close to St Mark’s Basilica has a 24-hour clockface Voynich researchers may well find eerily familiar:-


(7) Another scene which didn’t make the final cut involved comparing the pinion gears in that same clock with some of the (remarkably similar) gear-shaped leaves in the Voynich Manuscript. This didn’t quite fit the narrative the producers & editors wanted to extract from “The Curse”, so never made it in. If you do get a chance to take a tour around the insides of the Horologia clock, please do – highly recommended!

(8) While we were filming in Antonio Averlino’s Ospedale Maggiore in Milan, I was showing the curious pipework in the Voynich Manuscript’s Quire 13 to the architect Stefano Calchi Novati when there was a surprised call from around the corner. The sound recordist (Stefano Varini) had noticed some decaying ancient terracotta pipework embedded in the fabric of the building – I knew it was supposed to be there, but had never actually seen it. Thanks to the “access-all-areas pass” a well-accredited film crew has, we had gone through to the far quadrant of the Ospedale that I hadn’t previously seen. It was really wonderful to see for myself what I can only conclude was Averlino’s original pipework still in situ – and that it turned out to be so very similar to the Voynich’s pipework was an even greater surprise.

(9) For me, the most amazing thing of all actually came after the documentary had finished shooting. Late on the last day, I had taken a picture from the right end of the middle wall of the Castello Sforzesco, looking out over the front wall: the reconstructed Filarete tower is in the middle, and the Duomo is clearly visible in the distance just to the right of it.

But it later struck me that if I had taken the same shot from the right-hand corner of the backmost wall (which is the only part of the castello that Averlino is known to have actually built), the Duomo would have ended up looking remarkably like the blue smudge behind the castle in the castle rosette.

Here, all the places Averlino worked are in green, the two rows of swallowtail merlons are in blue, and the place where I think the Voynich castle rosette drawing was made from (the middle of the rear courtyard) is in red. The two red lines mark the extents of the blue smudge just above the Voynich castle rosette.

4. Crew Credits

Seeing as this isn’t even remotely included in IMDb (shame!), I thought I ought to include the crew credits, give them their fifteen seconds of fame:-


Director: John Blystone


Camera: Peter Thorne


Sound: Stefano Varini


Fixer: Dario Canciello


Translator: Cesira de Vito

They were all a pleasure to work with, and I hope to work with them again very soon on the feature-length sequel “The Da Voynich Code” (though possibly not in 3D). 😉

UPDATE!

National Geographic episode rollout (I’ll update this as it propagates through the Nat Geo listings, please let me know if I’ve missed any!):-
* Indonesia: Fri, 11 May 2012 8:00 pm
* Hungary: Titkok és ereklyék (‘Secrets and Relics’): Szodoma és Gomora – 23-24 May 2012.
* UK: 9pm 22nd May 2012, and then several times a day all the way through to the 27th May 2012

My Villa Mondragone slides are getting ever closer to finished, which is just as well because the 2012 Voynich Manuscript conference is now a scant seven days away (*gasp*). Meanwhile here in Cipher Mysteries Towers, it should be no surprise that the caffeinated clatter of jittery journalists tap-tapping away at the walls for interesting angles on everyone’s favourite mysterious manuscript is starting to build up to a bit of a din, ahh bless.

So… here’s my latest version (#007) of Between Vellum and Prague. If you’ll be at Frascati (and I sincerely hope a good few of you will be!), please feel free to read it beforehand, I really don’t mind – in fact, I far prefer excruciatingly well-informed hecklers. 😉

However, the even bigger big news of the day is that the first screening date for the Voynich documentary I was filmed for in Venice and Milan last summer has just been announced: 9pm 22nd May 2012 on the National Geographic channel here in the UK, and then several times a day all the way through to the 27th May 2012. It’s part of a series called “Ancient X-Files”: my Voynich section time-shares an episode with a section on locating the Biblical cities of Sodom & Gomorrah.

It was a terrific lot of fun making it (despite the Venetian heatwave), as well as a truly amazing experience going to places as part of a full-on documentary film crew – doors that would stay resolutely shut to A. N. Other solo historian magically eased themselves wide, wide open. This meant that I got to see a whole load of wonderful, new surprising things – in fact, everywhere we went, everything we saw & everyone we met all far surpassed my expectations. So even if the Nat Geo documentary stands essentially zero chance of convincing you to drop your own Voynich theory for a picosecond 🙂 , I hope you’ll come along for the ride, a brief busman’s holiday to Quattrocento Italy with my Antonio Averlino / Filarete theory!

Come on, someone you know is bound to be a Nat Geo subscriber, surely? Go on, ask them! 🙂

Anyway, that’s all for the moment, but rest assured I’ll be able to post much more once it airs…

As promised, here are some preliminary slides for my upcoming Villa Mondragone / Voynich 2012 presentation, though not yet with any pictures to illustrate them (boo! hiss!).

Essentially, I’ve wrapped together all my various codicological analyses from the last decade into a single mega-sequence: these explain the step-by-step transformations that I’m fairly certain the Voynich Manuscript underwent once people started adding extra layers (quire numbers, marginalia, folio numbers, etc) to it.

Download the slides here: Between Vellum and Prague.

There’s also a mega-diagram handout to go with it: click on the following picture to expand it out into something you can navigate more effectively. The key graphic convention to note is that I’ve used underlines to denote where quire numbers were physically added (and on which individual digit!)

Ultimately, I think I’ve now managed to reach a level of codicological narrative that explains more or less everything that happened to the manuscript once it landed on the first quire numberer’s desk (though a question mark remains hanging over ‘Q6’, Quire #6 *sigh*). Having said that, I’m perfectly happy for you all to try to shoot any part of it down in flames… I wouldn’t present it to an international conference if I wasn’t reasonably convinced it was basically bulletproof. 🙂

Further reading:
* For basic background, my introduction to the Voynich Manuscript’s quire numbering
* For much, much more on the ‘chicken scratch’ marginalia (and on Q8 and Q14), take a look at these posts: 1, 2, 3, and 4.