Poetry News

15th-Century concrete poetry and carbon dating

By Harriet Staff

The Voynich Manuscript is a strange book of ciphers that researchers previously thought dated from the 16th century. But now, thanks to improved radiocarbon dating, it’s been discovered to originate from the 15th century, disproving many previous guesses as to its history. An article on Physorg.com gives a useful layman’s version of the dating process. But the real mystery lies in the book’s meaning, which no one is any closer to discovering. According to Greg Hodgins, who led the team who did the carbon dating:

"The text shows strange characteristics like repetitive word use or the exchange of one letter in a sequence," he says. "Oddities like that make it really hard to understand the meaning."

"There are types of ciphers that embed meaning within gibberish. So it is possible that most of it does mean nothing. 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."

"Who knows what's being written about in this manuscript, but it appears to be dealing with a range of topics that might relate to alchemy. Secrecy is sometimes associated with alchemy, and so it would be consistent with that tradition if the knowledge contained in the book was encoded. What we have are the drawings. Just look at those drawings: Are they botanical? Are they marine organisms? Are they astrological? Nobody knows."

Originally Published: February 14th, 2011