The Long-Awaited Voynich Radiocarbon Report

For almost a decade now I’ve had express permission to obtain and disseminate the original 2009 radiocarbon report of the Voynich vellum samples. Nonetheless it has been a long, confusing and sometimes frustrating trail to finally achieving that goal. I’m glad to say it has finally transpired, and the report is now up at Voynich.net for download.


I’m not entirely sure why the report has not been released until now. In reading it, we can see… well at first, second and third reading, I still see… nothing in it that is controversial, or which counters the information which was released in dribs and drabs over the years. The reluctance to release it has made me wonder, no doubt. But on reading it, it still only reflects my understandings, and concerns, about the method of interpreting the measured data.

First, a little history: Soon after the 1010 ORF Voynich documentary aired, I requested a copy- this copy- from the Beinecke Library. They wrote back and told me that if I obtained permission from the producers of the documentary, they would email it to me. I quickly received that permission. I think the producers and I share a mutual friendship and respect, starting with their being intrigued by my cylinder-optical device comparisons, and so included me in their production. I still think this is one of the better documentaries on the Voynich… I would say the 2012 BBC version, and the recent Travel Channel segment, would be of similar quality and merit, although all with slightly different content and direction.

In any case, I wrote back to the Beinecke with those permissions, but did not receive a reply. Instead, it seems, they forwarded my request to an outside party, who wrote and told me “The C14 Report will never be released”.

To make the ensuing, very long story very short: One producer offered to send it, but then could not find it. I was also told there was no report. Then I was told “If you don’t trust the report [I did, and do] you should pay and have your own report done”.

Then I was later told the report had been published, but this claim of course turned out to be incorrect. During this time it became apparent that some who held the report were sharing it with selected researchers and bloggers, who, in some cases, published screenshots of parts of it.

Well that was all very odd, especially considering that the report holds nothing any more controversial than can be derived from the image I snapped of Greg Hodgin’s slide, presented at the 2012 Voynich 100 Conference, in Frascati, Italy. My shot was, for some time, the only source of the detailed data of the individual tested samples, which data would not have been known for several years outside the memory of the participants of the event.

My photograph of Hodgins Slide at Voynich 100 Conference, 2012

But so be it. It is all water under the bridge, as they say. But still, I do wish the data was shared as promised long ago. In fact I wish that all data was shared, completely and quickly, with all interested parties. There are a great many very brilliant people working on this problem, both professionals and amateurs in all fields. They are mostly earnest, educated, talented, and free-thinking people, who dedicate giant swaths of their lives to this quest. Some, their whole lives. It is only fair and ethical that they not be forced to rely on interpretations of a chosen few, because those interpretations and opinions are far from the only ones that can reasonably be derived from this precious source material… no matter what we are told. No matter how educated in any one or more fields related to the Voynich… botanists, mathematicians, physicians, astronomers, astrologists, linguists, herbalists, experts in alchemy… or, for that matter, those outside any perceived fields, such as accountants, psychologists, rocket scientists, roofers or car mechanics, you get the idea… they all need the raw data to properly assess what is true, and what is not, from their unique perspectives.

As Protagoras said, “Man is the measure of all things- what is, that it is; what is not, that it is not.” And that “measure” should be their own, and not solely based on the vicissitudes of opinions by others.

In any case, my personal opinion, on reading the report, remains: I fully trust and accept the results of the individual samples as tested by Mr. Hodgins, and the University of Arizona, as I always have. Please read that last twice, as it is often wrongly stated that I “question”, or “distrust” those tests. I do not, I accept them.

However, I do strongly reject the “combining” of those individual results on the “assumption” that the book was created within a span of ten or so years. I feel this is letting an unfounded subjective pre-conception of what the Voynich must be drive a result which is actually not known.

And this is obviously a problem, because then by using circular logic that neat and tidy result, “1404-1438”, is used to validate the unfounded claim that all the vellum was from the same time period! What was done was that we found a wide range of dates from the C14 testing of the samples, this ran counter to an “all at one time” creation, so then those results are “combined” to fit the “all at one time” creation opinion. Then it is that opinion which got and gets repeated, and reported, rather than the reality that the raw data actually informed us of. In almost every blog, article, and Youtube video on the Voynich, it is incorrectly stated that the C14 tests showed the vellum “was all from the same time”, which “proves the Voynich was made in a short period”. The further use of this erroneous conclusion is that it is evidence the Voynich is genuine. As I wrote on my Voynich Myths page:

“8) The C14 dating shows the vellum/parchment is from 1404-1438: The published range is actually a conclusion determined by combining the very different results of the four samples tested. But when looked at separately, as would have been done if not found bound together, nor assumed to be made as the same time, the results show they could be 50 to 60 years apart. And taking into account the extremes of the error range of the samples, they actually could date to as much as 132 years apart:

Folio 8: 490±37, which works out to 1423 to 1497
Folio 26: 514±35, which works out to 1401 to 1471
Folio 47: 506±35, which works out to 1409 to 1479
Folio 68 (cleaned): 550±35, which works out to 1365 to 1435

The assumptions used to combine the results were clearly explained by Rene Zandbergen:

“A combined dating of the Voynich MS

The dating of each folio doesn’t allow a very precise dating of the MS. The uncertainty in age for each folio is some 50-60 years, and in the case of fol.68 even spans two centuries due to the above-mentioned inversions of the calibration curve. The book production process is likely to have taken considerably less time than these 50-60 years. Under the assumptions that:

– The MS was indeed created over a time span not exceeding (e.g.) 10 years
– It was not using parchment that was prepared many years ago

each sheet provides a measurement or ‘observation’ of the MS creation. Since they are likely to be from different animal hides, these are indeed independent observations. Combining these observations leads to a combined un-calibrated age of 1435 ± 26 years (1 sigma).”

From http://voynich.nu/extra/carbon.html (explanation since removed). From the above, it is clear that various unknowns were “assumed”, in order to “combine” the results into one, palatable range. These assumptions included a short range of creation time, and the use of fresh vellum… both things we may or may not assume, at our discretion, and which are in any case, not known (see points #2 and #3, above).”

So I am glad that we do finally have access to the original report, and thank the Beinecke for sharing it. I am a great believer in the intelligence and good common sense of the average individual, and wish and hope that such a spirit of sharing will increase and continue, and that all data, from all methods of testing, chemical, multi-spectral, radiocarbon, or whatever is out there, and whatever comes, will be similarly trusted with the many well meaning and capable hundreds of people who make up the entire Voynich research community.

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10 Responses to The Long-Awaited Voynich Radiocarbon Report

  1. E. Pigeon says:

    Really interesting posts! Your forgery arguments strike me as quite convincing, especially concerning the telescopes/microscopes and the images of microbial life forms.

  2. I’ve always been frustrated that the samples weren’t randomised. I can’t imagine how anyone trained to lab-work wouldn’t have kept to the international standard methods.

    It means that the range we have is mostly for the ‘normal’ quires and the whole point about this manuscript is that it contains so many quires totally unlike the Latins’ ‘normal’.

    Also, of course, the way quires are stacked, you’d very possibly find the oldest quires at the bottom. I have no idea why they presume the whole would have been inscribed within ten years ..(of the animals being killed? of the skins being made into parchment?). I’m willing to accept the conservators may have reason for that.

  3. john sanders says:

    I’ll make it nice and simple this time. In order to carbon date those five MS 408 velum/parchment samples, our technician would need to have been supplied with data upon which his specto gizmo input might be enabled to determine reliable C14 age at death. In order to achieve same however, it would inlude needing to know ‘the name of the beast’ (eg. bovine or camel), whether it was wild or domestic, of what geographic region it came from and climate variables in that environment, it’s approximate maturity at time of death, then most critical of all, what did it’s nutrient intake consist of ie., C3/C4 grasses or both. Greg the tech., not having been provided with these essential ingredients, they being of course unknown, should therefore not have been capable of procuring the results that he did (1404 – 1432 +/- 5yrs.). It might also be noted that, irrespective of whether the actual sourced collagen testing matter was from a 1404 or 1904 (500 years) Voynich Manuscript, in C14 terms, such would represent no more than a New York minute in geological age terms. Using these credentials one can well imagine that a 450 year false reading could then have been the result upon which our Voynicheros rely on so smugly.

    • proto57 says:

      Interesting John… but I admit I am not knowledgeable in the factors you outline here. I mean, I didn’t know that different animals or other tested organics would affect the resultant C14 levels. I thought through all animals and all plants all around the world, the C14 levels were consistent for any particular year, and so source and geography didn’t matter. And it is true that the species of animals involved here was not known, and certainly the geography of the animals was and is not known. Of course it would be limited to calf or sheep… now we know, or I am told, they were calves.

      But I’d be interested in learning more. However, I also admit… and point this out because I don’t want to be misunderstood… with my current understanding, I accept that the animals died sometime in the 15th century. Being a skeptic, though, I’m interested in learning more about the potential problems with that position.

  4. john sanders says:

    Rich: ln order carbon date collagen samples from foraging or grazing animals successfully one needs to have knowledge of things like plant photosynthesis, isotopic transfers, carbon dissipation rates (half life) and a host of other essential ingrediehts that must be factored in to the equasion before C14 spectro analysis can be of use for dating purposes. I set out in some detail the main specifics on this site some time back as you will recall, but that didn’t seem to have the desired effect on our overated so called Voynichero experts, which from experience is only to be expected for my admittedly inexpert, though well intentioned VM contributions.

    • proto57 says:

      I understand, and have looked into this. And I agree with your points. But what I am unclear on is the amount of difference in dating results. For instance, I read that parchment from sheep that graze near the shore, and eat seaweed and such, have a different level of radioactive carbons in their makeup than inland grazing sheep do, and this will cause a difference in the results. I sensed it was not a lot of difference, though. But I could not find out.

      Do you know?

  5. john sanders says:

    Rich: Though it seems of no relevence to your intriguing pieces on Jabez Hogg, interesting nonetheless, is that like he, Ethel Voynich’s mother (my) Mary Boole and her brother-in-law Charles Hinton also corresponded with Charles Darwin. Perhaps they moved in the same off-beat circles who knows?

    • proto57 says:

      Interesting. Another possible connection is Ethel’s writing and interests. In the Gadfly and An Interrupted Friendship, she uses flowers and their colors to set mood; discusses ciphers, and South American culture, flora, and fauna. And she was very interested in Botany of course.

      Point being, it fits the suggestion that the Voynich was created as something that would appeal to her… and we don’t have to guess at the resulting appeal, as she was smitten by the VMs. Coincidence?

      Someone mentioned to me another connection involving the HIntons and Booles, to content in the VMs. And Darwin? Microscopes?

      I think there is a good case that could be made for Wilfrid wanting to create something that would engender respect in Ethel, whom he probably loved, but who was from a different world, with famous family, connections, and personal experiences that probably left him feeling fairly inadequate. Solution? Find an amazing, impossible, beautiful and mysterious book, that touched on, or hinted at, everything Ethel knew and loved… “Look, dear, I’m important, too…”. And now, more famous than his revolutionary, composer, writer, brilliant and beautiful celebrity wife, with the respected and famous family…

      … all it would have taken was a few inexpert dabs of ink and paints on some scrap vellum from the Libreria. And “whoosh”, the tables turned… now HE was the man.

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