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15th-century manuscript with alien characters finally decoded

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The Voynich manuscript's unintelligible writings and strange illustrations have defied every attempt at understanding their meaning. (BEINECKE RARE BOOK AND MANUSCRIPT LIBRARY/YALE UNIVERSITY)
The Voynich manuscript's unintelligible writings and strange illustrations have defied every attempt at understanding their meaning. (BEINECKE RARE BOOK AND MANUSCRIPT LIBRARY/YALE UNIVERSITY)

Scientists have harnessed the power of artificial intelligence to unlock the secrets of an ancient manuscript that has baffled experts.

Discovered in the 19th century, the Voynich manuscript uses “alien” characters that have long puzzled cryptographers and historians. Now, however, computing scientists at the University of Alberta say they are decoding the mysterious 15th-century text.

Computing science Professor Greg Kondrak and graduate student Bradley Hauer applied artificial intelligence to find ambiguities in the text’s human language.

The Voynich manuscript's unintelligible writings and strange illustrations have defied every attempt at understanding their meaning.  (BEINECKE RARE BOOK AND MANUSCRIPT LIBRARY/YALE UNIVERSITY)
The Voynich manuscript’s unintelligible writings and strange illustrations have defied every attempt at understanding their meaning. (BEINECKE RARE BOOK AND MANUSCRIPT LIBRARY/YALE UNIVERSITY)

The first stage of the research was working out the manuscript’s language. The experts used 400 different language translations from the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” to identify the language used in the text. Initially, it seemed like the text was written in Arabic, but the researcher’s algorithms revealed that the manuscript is written in Hebrew.

“That was surprising,” said Kondrak, in a statement. “And just saying ‘this is Hebrew’ is the first step. The next step is how do we decipher it.”

Kondrak and Hauer worked out that Voynich manuscript was created using ‘alphagrams’ that use one phrase to define another so built an algorithm to unscramble the text. “It turned out that over 80 per cent of the words were in a Hebrew dictionary, but we didn’t know if they made sense together,” said Kondrak.

The initial part of the text was then run through Google Translate. “It came up with a sentence that is grammatical, and you can interpret it,” Kondrak explained.

The sentence was: “She made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people.”

The full meaning of the text will need the involvement of historians of ancient Hebrew. The vellum, or animal skin, on which the codex is written has been dated to the early 15th century.

The research study is published in Volume 4 ofTransactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics.

There have been multiple attempts to decode the Voynich manuscript. In 2014, for example, researchers argued that the illustrations of plants in the manuscript could help decode the text’s strange characters. In 2011, a self-proclaimed “prophet of God” claimed that he had decoded the book.

Researchers offer yet another explanation to mysterious Voynich manuscript

Does “flower power” have an answer?

Written in “alien” characters, illustrated with sketches and dating back hundreds of years, the Voynich Manuscript has puzzled cryptographers, historians and bibliophiles for centuries — and a new analysis may finally offer an explanation.

Many have come forward with answers to the mysterious manuscript’s secrets. In 2011, a self-proclaimed prophet of god said he had cracked the crazy characters, which were “sonic waves and vocal syllables.” But most experts agree that its meaning remains hidden.

“The Voynich has been the subject of almost countless essays and investigations, none of which has been able to crack the code,” wrote Mark Blumenthal, editor in chief of HerbalGram, the peer-reviewed journal of the nonprofit American Botanical Council.

In the latest attempt to decipher the code, two botanical scholars have their own explanation for the text. After reviewing the images of the plants depicted in the 500-year-old manuscript they were able to identify them with real-world vegetation.

“We were both immediately struck by the similarity of xiuhamolli/xiuhhamolli (soap plant … sometimes known as the “Aztec Herbal”) to the plant in the illustration on folio 1v of the Voynich,” botanist Arthur O. Tucker and retired information technologist Rexford H. Talbert wrote in their study.

By focusing on the pictures and not the “words,” the botanists offer a unique insight.

“Numerous failed attempts to crack the code of the Voynich Manuscript have focused on linguistics and cryptography,” associate curator of the Missouri Botanical Garden’s William L. Brown Center Wendy Applequist said. “Tucker and Talbert have focused on its botany and, surprisingly but plausibly, identified many of the plants depicted as New World taxa.”

“At minimum, this offers new leads for decipherment efforts; ultimately, if text relating to Central American ethnobotany can be retrieved from the manuscript, its historical significance will be extraordinary,” Applequist noted.

The two scholars combed through the manuscript and discovered that through interpreting many of the plants’ names, a linguist would be able to use that information to decipher the code.

“Also, because we have been trained as botanists and horticulturists, not linguists, our feeble attempts at a syllabary/alphabet for the language in the Voynich Ms. must be interpreted merely as a key for future researchers, not a fait accompli.”

Although Tucker and Talbert have not completely cracked the code just yet, their research will hopefully lead others in the centuries old race to unlock the mysteries of the Voynich manuscript.

“Tucker and Talbert have produced an analysis both intriguing and insightful which solves one of the ultimate ethnobotanical cold cases!” ethnobotanist Mark Plotkin noted.

Mysterious Manuscript’s Code Has Been Cracked, ‘Prophet of God’ Claims

Written in “alien” characters, illustrated with sketches, and dating back hundreds of years, the Voynich Manuscript has puzzled cryptographers, historians and bibliophiles for centuries.

And now the mystery has finally come to an end, according to a businessman from Finland named Viekko Latvala, a self described “prophet of god,” who says he has decoded the book and unlocked the secrets of the world’s most mysterious manuscript.

Latvala’s business associate, Ari Ketola told FoxNews.com the meaning of the crazy characters he described as “sonic waves and vocal syllables.”

“The book is a life work and scientific publication of medicine that would be still useful today,” Ketola said. “The writer was a scientist of plants, pharmacy, astrology and astronomy. It contains … prophesy for some decades and hundreds of years ahead from the time it was created.”

In other words, the Voynich Manuscript — which is currently held by Yale University’s Beincke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in New Haven, Conn. — is an herbological tome, something the writer used to keep track of plants and their uses for either scientific or medical purposes. And a prophecy.

Latvala provided the following translation of plant 16152, which he said can be found today in Ethiopia:

“The name of the flower is Heart of Fire.
It makes the skin beautiful when made as an ointment.
The oil is pressed from the buds.
This ointment is used for the wrinkles.
Is suitable for the kidneys and the head,
as the flower prevents inflammations, is antibiotic.
Plant is 10 centimeters by its height.
It grows on hot and dry slants.
The plant is bright green by its color.”

So how could Latvala decode a manuscript that still dumbfounds the world’s top cryptographers? It’s simple. You just have to have a direct line to God.

“Mr. Latvala said that no one ‘normal human’ can decode it, because there is no code or method to read this text, it’s a channel language of prophecy,” Ketola told FoxNews.com. “This type of persons are most rare to exist, yet they have always been on face of the Earth through millenniums up to today … and Mr Veikko Latvala has had this gift of mercy last 20 years.”

Several top cryptographers contacted by FoxNews.com declined to comment on Latvala’s claim, willing neither to validate his interpretation nor offer a counter explanation for the strange book. Ketola would not explained his methodology, but offered some insight into the weird characters.

“The language of this book is quite twisted,” Ketola said. “The sound syllables are a mixture of Spanish and Italian, also mixed with the language this man used to speak himself. His own language was a rare Babylonian dialect that was spoken in a small area in Asia.”

The author of the Voynich Manuscript did not know how to write in any extant language, Ketola said, so he had to create his own alphabet and vocabulary. “This man could not write any language so he had to invent a writing he can read / pronounce himself,” he said.

Ketola suggested that the language may have also been some sort of shorthand writing the author used to jot down notes for himself.

Another mysterious, “alien” book that no one can read was unraveled last month by Kevin Knight, a computer scientist with the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering.

The Copiale Cipher — a mysterious cryptogram bound in gold and green brocade paper — is a 250-year-old coded document. By decrypting it, Knight and his colleagues uncovered the inner workings of an 18th-century secret society.

Knight declined to comment on Ketola’s discovery.

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