July 18, 2012 - Found in a chest of books outside Rome by a dealer in antique books, the Voynich manuscript is among literature's great mysteries. The book of aging parchment is written in 'alien' characters, some resembling Latin letters, others in contrast to anything employed in any recognized language, and arranged into what seem to be words and sentences -- except they do not resemble anything written or read by human beings.
And for decades, the manuscript has mystified scientists.
"Is it a code, a cipher of some kind?" asked Greg Hodgins, a physicist with the University of Arizona. "People are doing statistical analysis of letter use and word use -- the tools that have been used for code breaking. But they still haven't figured it out," Hodgins said.
The DaVinci Code was fiction. The Voynich manuscript is genuine -- and its code remains one of history's largest mysteries. But at least Hodgins has solved part of the mystery behind the book: it is age.
Since the parchment pages of the Voynich manuscript were made from animal skin, they can be radiocarbon-dated. Hodgins, a chemist and archaeological scientist, utilized radiocarbon dating on tiny bits of the pages extracted with a scalpel to determine that the book dates back to the early 15th century, making it a century older than scholars had previously believed.
Carbon-14 dating places the book's creation to among 1404 and 1438, in the early Renaissance. It is not the oldest book in the world -- that would be The Diamond Sutra, a seven-page scroll printed with wood blocks on paper in China around 1,300 years ago.
"There are types of ciphers that embed meaning within gibberish. So it is possible that most of it does mean nothing," he said. "There is an old cipher method where you have a sheet of paper with strategically placed holes in it. And when those holes are laid on top of the writing, you read the letters in those holes. It is almost from another world!"