“It’s Newer Than You Think”

The title of this post is a play on the frequent claim by my friend and fellow Voynich researcher, Steve Ekwell, who often warns us, “It’s older than you think”. However, ever since the beginning of Voynich research in the early 20th century, both professional and amateur investigators have noted the presence of images which look “newer” than one might expect, given the general style of the manuscript. That is, many think it looks pretty much like a 15th or 16th century herbal, in general, but then striking comparisons to items which could only be there if they were copied from much later are made. Near the beginning of Voynich research these included microscopic and telescopic observations, such as cellular structures and celestial nebulae. Then O’Neil famously believed that certain plants were an American sunflower, and a pepper.

More recently, in 2006, I noted the similarity of many of the cylinders to modern optical devices. Others have noted imagery from medical texts, and from other works, which should not be in a text which matches at all the radiocarbon dating of the leaves of the 15th century. As a side note, since very publicly working on my very controversial modern forgery theory, there seems to be an increased reluctance to posting such (supporting?) comparisons. That is, when there was no such theory being seriously proposed, and only casually mentioned in passing as a sort of quirky side not, it was common to read comments along these lines, “Look at how much this illustration looks like ABC! Of course it can’t be ABC, because ABC is too new“. So I imagine that these thoughts are still occurring, if not shared. Below is a list of past observations, both by me and others, which have been either posted on this blog, or on the Voynich Mailing List, or elsewhere. On the associated blog posts of mine, I may have earlier theories of why they are there, because of course my theories have evolved into what they are today.

Voynich Cylinders and 17th Century Spanish Microscopes

Since posting the above comparison, years ago, I have found the source of the engravings to the right: They are from a 1763 Spanish “Broadsheet” by a Pablo Minguet. It turns out that figures 8 and 9 are not of microscopes, but of a type of low power monocular, or “opera glass”. Nonetheless, the comparison I to these optical devices is striking to me, and also, clearly not alone in the Voynich. Many of the cylinders seen also exhibit the very “optical-like” features of parallel sides, multiple diameters (for sliding focus?), recessed tops (inset lenses?), “rimmed” sections, some with legs, similar coloration and decoration to early optics, and even, the much later knurling for “grip” when focusing. I show a page of some such comparisons here, but I will post one more on this current overview list:

Microscope Comparsion 1

The above is doubly interesting to me, because not only does the Voynich illustration show enough similarities to pass as a drawing of the actual microscope (actually a field tube from inside a microscope), but that same microscope was on display about a quarter of a mile from Voynich’s Libraria (his Florence Book Store) during the time he owned that store, and during the time he said he “found” the Voynich. In the past it was said that this microscope was “too new” for the Voynich, and also, “too new” for even my Drebbel and New Atlantis theories. Eventually I agreed with my critics, because the similarity is so good, especially in the context of everything else found in the Voynich. But it is not “too new” to have been copied from the display, at the time it was on display, about 1908 to 1910. As an appropriate aside, all of these observations, mine and those of others, always fit the requirements that they were accessible to Wilfrid Voynich: They were either in print before 1910, or were in a place he was known to have visited, if not in print (such as London, Rome, Paris, Florence, etc.). And further, no good comparisons have been made to items after 1910… no automatic transmission parts, no toaster ovens, no rockets, and so on. This latter observation implies that the modern comparisons are not coincidental, for if they were, they would not know a 1910 upper boundary.

f27v Root: What a puzzler!

f27v Root: What a puzzler!

Here is one that helped nudge me into the future, so to speak. It was one of those nagging signs of newness which I began to feel I was dismissing, as so many others were, based on only one basic premise: The Voynich must be old. Once one steps over that virtual line, so many hundreds of features make sense, and so many problems with the manuscript immediately evaporate. It is like many problems and puzzles in this way: Often, one single, and seemingly immense obstacle, stands in the way of understanding what it is; while many smaller obstacles, far more palatable ones, are stepped over to avoid it. What I read now, in my puzzle-root blog post from 2011, are among my first steps in understanding this. But at the time, truly believing this could be a modern work was still quite an outlandish thought. The post about the below image was similar, but from 2009:

Voynich Manuscript f79r

Voynich Manuscript f79r “floating man”

The thing is, I was still attempting to force-fit the comparison into my early 17th century New Atlantis theory (I still believe that the presence of many NA items is not a coincidence, however I feel they are there for a different reason than before). I mean, I argued that this 1636 illustration was close enough to “my” time frame of 1610 to 1620 to allow that someone may have seen an early version of it, or the actual device. But now that I’ve moved up to the 20th century, it clicks neatly into place: Like many of the illustrations of the Voynich, I believe they were collected and copied, accurately and not, from many previous sources, in print and person. And I think whomever copied Schwenter’s swimming girdle did not quite understand that is was supposed to be wrapped around the body, then inflated! So they had their Voynich nymph simply hook an arm on it.

Here is the Schwenter engraving:

Early Swimming Aide... the

Back to optical comparisons: The below comparison between a diatom engraving, and a “wheel” from the Voynich.

The thing is, I found myself once again seeing a great comparison, but being troubled by the fact that it came later than my theories. I was forced to assume that someone had seen one of these diatoms, discovered off the coast of Japan in the 19th century, and only apparent at over 500 times magnification, and only found illustrated in a late 19th century book. Like many of these comparisons, though, the problems fall away when we accept that the Voynich post dates the illustration (from William B. Carpenter’s 19th century “The Microscope and its Revealations”. The scientific name of this diatom is Arachnoidiscus Japonicus). But an odd thing now happens… while no comparisons have been made between thousands of illustrations, from thousands of books, several Voynich illustrations often resemble several illustrations from a few books. And while the detractors of the modern hoax theories have struggled very hard to come up with alternative comparisons, they always fail to match as well, on so many points, as these microscopic engravings. It is good, though, that the effort to do this is so strong, because if not for that, it might have been assumed better alternatives exist.

Too Close for Comfort?

The above is one of many examples of this effect… the comparison is also found in the same Carpenter microscope book (in error I wrote “Carters” on the image). There are at least two more, from that same book. And two other microscope books provide several other, and I feel very good, comparisons, to Voynich illustrations.

Above we see one of these comparisons, between the f85r2 circular illustration, and a microscopic cross-section of a wheat stem, from a 1909 book. But the comparison goes beyond that, for within the Voynich illustration are four people, one of whom could be clutching a bunch of wheat. They are arguably standing in a garden, and if so, the model of the microscopic cellular structure of the wheat stem may have been chosen as the microcosm to the garden’s macrocosm. In any case, there was no seeing such structures before the mid-18th century, when microscopes became powerful enough to do so. In any case, the illustration of this cross section first appears in a book from 1909, along with two other close matches to Voynich illustrations.

Well it is

Well it is “Spiral”, Anyway

Above we have one of the well known Mr. Romaine Newbold, the famous “nebula”. Again, “too new” for the Voynich, although he and Wilfrid, and others, tried to shoehorn the comparisons into an even earlier dating than we now know possible: the 14th century, and at the hand of Roger Bacon. But I think there is another possible explanation: The word nebula was whispered in Newbold’s ear, and he just picked the wrong one! But photographs of what were thought nebula… now known as galaxy’s, were in print by the end of the 19th century. Another possible, and very good, comparison to this illustration was made by Elitsa Velinska, to an illustration by D’Oresme, in the 15th century. So was the D’Orseme illustration used, and updated and adapted (spirals added) to represent a “nebula”, or is it an innocent, early work, influenced by D’Orseme, at the time? For another take, look at some notes by Robert Teague. But I suspect, like many images in the Voynich, they are copied, and modified, to both look like their original counterparts, but be “not quite enough” like them for a direct identification. Enough to suggest, little enough to be sure. And you see, we are not sure, on this, nor anything.

And the famous “armadillo” rears it’s pretty head. The interesting thing is, this looks much like an armadillo to almost everyone who does not know of the Voynich, nor care when it was made, but looks nothing like one to anyone who believes the Voynich was written and illustrated before Columbus. It becomes a pangolin, wolf, or one of many other creatures that were known to Europeans in the 15th century. You decide. But since writing about the armadillo “sighting”, and since opening myself to the early 20th century, I have noticed that there are stylistic similarities to several armadillo sources, all, if used, impossible for a work any earlier than the 17th century or so.


An early (1944), and as usual controversial, comparison, was made by Hugh O’Neill. From Mary D’Imperio’s An Elegant Enigma,

“The most startling identification… …was folio 93, which is quite plainly the common sunflower. Helianthus Annuus L. Six botanist have agreed with me on this determination. This immediately recalls the date 1493, when the seeds of this plant were brought to Europe for the first time (by Columbus on his return from his second voyage). Again folio 101v shows a drawing which does not resemble any native European fruit, but suggests plainly Capsicum, a genus strictly American in origin, known in Europe only after the above date… …It seems necessary to consider this manuscript as having been written after 1493”.

Others have thought that the f33v plant may represent a sunflower, also. And, of course, there was a furor over O’Neill’s claims… long before the C14 dating placed the creation of the calfskin of the manuscript firmly in the 15th century. One may note, though, that even if O’Neill and his supporters, are correct, it does not place the Voynich in the 20th century, to me it is another indication that the images of the Voynich are drawn from, and modified from, many sources both before and after the radiocarbon dating of the leaves, up to 1909, when the newest such comparison can be made. That is, for anyone continuing to argue “15th century genuine European herbal”, they have quite a corpus of comparisons to dismiss, far beyond the few I alone have made, and dating back long before I was born.

The above are a selection of some of the more obvious comparisons that could possibly be made. But there are many possible such illustrations, and also writing styles, and other evidence in the Voynich, which support the possibility that the work is from Voynich’s time, and only copied from many sources, both printed and in person, from right up until it was created, as a modern forgery. And they come from all over: Nick Pelling has noted a possible toilet, which he attributes to the architect Averlino, in his theory. He also notes modern notation used for some numbers, and the quire notations, even pointing out that some quire numbers may have been made with a steel nib, only he feels that all these were added later. And he has long noted the similarity of many Voynich “jars” to Majorca… but with legs, which are from a much later time than the calfskin. And Nick even explored the possibilities of my optical comparisons, looking for instances “early enough” to be explained by an early Voynich ms., but like me, found none that satisfied from an early date. We just have different reasons they are not found, and so, I keep the comparisons, as I think they are modern, while Nick now (I believe) rejects them. Elitsa Velinska, while voicing strong objections to my modern theories, has come up with many very good comparisons with various anatomical details with illustrations in the Voynich. She does not believe these images are modern, while I would counter-argue (and do!) that the use and representation of many of them is more likely from a text more modern than the era of the calfskin they are applied on.

To this we can add so many more, only a few of which I can think of while writing this: My comparison of a certain version of the Heidelberg crest, and the f46v root being rejected as “too new”; the observation by several that the Voynich “foldouts” are too new for the 15th century; the possible presence of various people, such as Martin Luther by me, and Tycho Brahe and Kepler by Robert Teague. Robert also notes various possible celestial observations which can only been seen much later than the vellum. Tim Mervyn, who famously argues this as a possible work by John Dee and Edward Kelley, has made the same observation I have, that one of the men in the f57v “wheel” seems to be holding a speculum, and so, seemingly representing one of them.

And the list goes on… many people have voiced impressions giving them what I call “The Nagging Sense of Newness”, in many different ways, for decades… although they usually firmly reject what they seem to feel is a disturbing conclusion. And I ironically agree with their observations. In fact, I probably agree with more observations and comparisons, by more people, than anyone in the field. The difference with me is that I no longer find those observations at all disturbing, and so, I come to a very different conclusion as to why they are made in the first place.

Tags: , ,

4 Responses to ““It’s Newer Than You Think””

  1. david Says:

    Nice summary, Rich.

    However, the “sense of newness” might also be attributable to the idea that the VMs tends in places to replicate forms which can be found both in antiquity and in modern art imagery ; my thought about this is that all such representations are connectable to the same central set of images- which is itself fundamentally geologic.

    So: “Fake” possible, “Hoax” not really.

    David S.

  2. The Three Quire Theory | The Voynich-New Atlantis Theory Says:

    […] of, to see such fold outs used in the 15th century. And so, for me, it has been one of those “Nagging Signs of Newness”, which I feel point to a modern origin of the Voynich. But beyond that, they make sense with my […]

  3. nickpelling Says:

    Rich: I have found the maiolica ‘feet’ issue surprisingly hard to prove or disprove. Italian Quattrocento painters tended not to include maiolica in their paintings, unlike Dutch and German painters of the same century.

    I suspect that this was because maiolica had not yet become a recognized art form (as it did around 1500): and so it was just a bit too ‘everyday’ a thing for patrons to want artists to include.

    But the short version is that we can’t yet tell either way about whether objects had these kinds of feet, so it’s not really something that proves or disproves anything.

    It would also be nice to be sure that the feet weren’t later additions. 😉

    • proto57 Says:

      Within my “optical” theory, I point out that the feet seem to roughly imply the “delphini”, or dolphin motif… sometimes tail down, sometimes head down. This was a decorative design element on not only microscopes, but all sorts of furniture and decorative ware, such as candlesticks and bowl stands. It may be a useful idea to note in the case of glassware, too, if it were used there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: