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.
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.