Researchers led by physicist Greg Hodgins from the University of Arizona claim to have unraveled at least one part of what is perhaps the greatest mystery puzzling the world of letters - the age of the famous Voynich manuscript discovered in 1912 which has continued to baffle historians, cryptologists and scientists around the world.
The manuscript, discovered by antique book dealer Wilfrid Voynich near Rome while sifting through a chest of ancient books, contains a compilation of drawings and writings which, at first glance, appears to be not unlike any other antique work of writing and drawing. However a second, closer look reveals that while some characters resemble Latin letters, others in the code do not look like anything written - or read - by human beings.
Now, even while its contents continue to mystify, researchers at the University have traced the origin of the parchment to the early 1400s using a technique known as radiocarbon dating. The team used an instrument that can sniff out traces of the element carbon-14 in objects, giving scientists clues about the age of the samples.
As explained in a release from the University, carbon 14 is a rare, radioactive form of carbon that animals accumulate in appreciable quantity in their tissues over a lifetime. When a plant or animal dies, the level of carbon-14 in it drops at a predictable rate, and thus can be used to calculate the amount of time that has passed since death. This also makes it possible to date products made from animals or plants. The pages of the Voynich manuscript being made from animal skin, it was possible to use the technique to put a date on its origin.
Lead researcher Hodgins clarified that In radiocarbon dating, there is this whole system of many people working at it...it takes many skills to produce a date. From start to finish, there is archaeological expertise; there is biochemical and chemical expertise; we need physicists, engineers and statisticians.
Using the method, the team has pushed back the presumed age of the manuscript by a 100 years from what had been earlier hypothesized. However the actual contents in it remain as opaque as ever. Careful to point out that anything beyond dating is not within the expertise of the team, Hodgins has nevertheless indicated that some of the contents may be related to topics in the medieval discipline of alchemy, something that would also explain its encoding in line with the practice of the times. As Kevin Repp, curator of modern books & manuscripts at Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book Library, which owns and houses the Voynich manuscript told FoxNews.com, There are many reasons why a manuscript would have been written in code at the time, fears of accusations of heresy or witchcraft among them.