No Expert “Got it Right”

Number 9 on my list of Modern Voynich Myths states that when the 2009 radiocarbon test revealed a date range of 1404 and 1438, it showed the previous experts guessed the date correctly.

But this was, and is, utterly incorrect. As I wrote in Myths,

“Tallying the expert opinions, pre-C14, the majority of experts… I think it works out to about 14 out of 16 of them, by D’Imperio’s book, were dead wrong. In fact this was noted soon after the C14 was announced, in the 2009 ORF documentary, and its surrounding promotions: the results were touted as toppling the previous expert opinion, and being a total surprise. It was a surprise. But in a very short time, this reality morphed into “The experts got it right”, by using the two or so experts who did happen to have opinions near or in the C14 range, and ignoring the majority that were wrong. This new mythology is often used to support the false premise, “It cannot be a forgery, because how could a pre-C14 forger have happened to choose the ‘right parchment’?”. The thing is, they did not choose “the right parchment” for the work they laid on it, if forged.”

Despite this reality, I have continued to see this provably false claim pop up in many articles, blogs, documentaries and podcasts. And it is such a frequent falsehood, and buried among so many others, equally incorrect, and equally pervasive, that it no longer surprises me to see it. 

But when it recently popped up in a Facebook conversation with a friend of mine (a prominent Voynich scholar), I found myself compelled to revisit it. He told me that one of the reasons he believed the Voynich to be genuine was because of this supposed, correct, expert opinion. He wrote, “The [C14] dating of the vellum matches that provided by Panofsky to Voynich’s enquiry…”

So I referred to D’Imperio’s work again, and my old “list of experts”, to see exactly what Erwin Panofsky had to say. His opinion did not, in fact, match the dating at all, but gave a creation date 100 years later, of 1510-1520! Well he may have begun with an earlier date, as reported by Ethel after his first couple of hours with the manuscript, of “1410-20-30”, but he later modified his opinion to 1510 to 1520.

By 1954, when Panofsky was quizzed by William Friedman, he had “moved forward” from his two hour initial assessment, and gave his revised dating as 1510 to 1520. He did mention O’Neil’s sunflower identification in his final opinion. But the “sunflower” was not the only factor, as he wrote, “Were it not for the sunflower which, if correctly identified, would date the manuscript after 1492, I should have thought that it was executed a little earlier, say, about 1470. However, since the style of the drawings is fairly provincial, a somewhat later date, even the first years of the sixteenth century, would not seem to be excluded. I should not go lower than ca. 1510-1520 because no influence of the Italian Renaissance style is evident.”

On Rene Zandbergen’s site, Rene interprets both of Panofsky’s widely competing conclusions, “He believed the origin to be in the 15th Century, but allowed a later date in consideration of the tentative sunflower identification.” But I don’t at all agree with this conclusion, as we see Panofsky’s entire statement that it was not entirely about the sunflower to him: “… I should not go lower than ca. 1510-1520…”. The logical structure of that is clear… if he would not go lower than 1510, because “… no influence of the Italian Renaissance style is evident”, then we know the sunflower was a moot issue for him.

In any case, it is clear that Panofsky changed his mind, after that earlier, and brief, encounter with the Voynich.

So things were far worse for the already shaky myth than I had remembered, as we were left with only one pre-C14 expert who thought the Voynich dated from the early 15th century: Helmut Lehmann-Haupt. And he was actually not an expert in paleography, art history, linguistics, herbals, but a bibliographer. I mean, that’s fine as far as I’m concerned, but I point it out because the type of expertise applied to the Voynich problem is often used to inflate or diminish any particular chosen opinion by them. I think it might be hard to raise the bibliography of Haupt above, say, the respectable herbalist Charles Singer, for instance.

Here is a chart of the expert opinions, pre-radiocarbon dating, that I’ve compiled:

Pre-C14 Expert Dating

We clearly see that the experts not only didn’t “get it right”, but they actually all fell on either side of the C14 dating! That is, there is a desolate valley of 15th century opinions in the yellow C14 band, with mountains of opinions stretching out for decades both before and after it. Mr. Haupt is the lone resident of that valley.

Demonstrably, factually, the experts didn’t get it right at all, they got it very, very, wrong.

Or did they? And which ones did? Take your pick, that’s what everyone does. Those who chose to believe the Voynich is genuine, and from about 1420, defend their necessary rejection of all these experts on many grounds. I’ve heard many reasons given for ignoring their conclusions… this one was was not “really” an expert, or those ones were in “the wrong field”. They didn’t know enough, see enough. One contention I read was that Charles Singer’s work was really that of his wife’s! Well of course I disagree, but even if so, couldn’t his wife have been correct? In the case of Panofsky, his final conclusion is rejected, and replaced by his own, earlier one, which he himself had rejected! Well here is my compilation of these people, what their area of expertise was, and why they came to the conclusions they did:


Area of Expertise


Reasons for opinion

Wilfrid Voynich


Late 13th century

Roger Bacon

Romaine Newbold

Philosophy, psychology of religion, cryptography

Late 13th century

Roger Bacon

Prof. Giles Constable

Professor of Medieval History, Harvard

16th century


Mr. Rodney Dennis

Curator of manuscripts in Houghton Library, Harvard College Library

16th century

Script appeared to be 16th century Humanist

Dr. Franklin Ludden



Style of drawings, features of nude figures, stylization of the botanical drawings

Rev. Theodore C. Peterson

A specialist in ancient languages and history, and an expert in religion, astrology and mystic manuscripts

13th to 14th centuries

The herbal with astrological tables, and comparison to works of Hildegarde of Bingen

Robert Steele

Expert on Medieval Mss., historian and Roger Bacon scholar, editor of Bacon works

13th century (reluctant?)

Felt the drawings have no Renaissance nor Medieval influence.

Hugh O’Neill

Prominent Botanist

Post 1493 (post-Columbian

Based on identification of sunflower and capsicum pepper

Helmut Lehmann-Haupt

Bibliographical consultant to H.P. Kraus

“… around, or a little after, the year 1400.”


Erwin Panofsky

Art Historian, expert on symbolism, iconography and iconology in art.

 “… no lower than 1510-1520.”

Based on character of script, style of drawings, and costumes.

Elizebeth Friedman

Cipher expert

“… certainly later than 13th century… … 1500, plus or minus twenty years.”

Citing consensus of expert opinion

Dr. Albert H. Carter

Cryptologic Historian

“… far later than the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries”.

He saw no Gothic forms, and the coloring of illustrations

Dr. Charles Singer

Expert on the world history of the Herbal tradition

1520 or later

Various style and content

Leonell Strong

Cancer research scientist and amateur cryptographer

1525 or later

Based on Strong’s opinion that Anthony Askham was the author

Robert Brumbaugh

American philosopher and a professor of medieval philosophy at Yale University

1500 at the earliest

Sagittarius hat, a “clock”, and other

Sergio Toresella

Expert on Ancient Herbals

late 15th century (1460-1480)

Comparison to other herbals

So herein lies the problem for anyone who wants to continue to claim the Voynich must be an early 15th manuscript because the pre-C14 experts believed it was: The experts did no such thing. This has always been a myth, and as it turns out, and even more vaporous one than I realized it was, back in 2015.

Those who hold onto this dis-proven belief… and believe me, they will continue to…  will be forced to bend themselves into pretzels by discarding a raft of impressive, valued scholars and scholarship, all earned with many centuries of combined studies, debate and real world testing and comparisons to the greatest collections of the world. They must all be called wrong… all the paleographers, botanists, herbalists, linguists, cipher experts, wrong, wrong, wrong…  and only Haupt, the bibliographer and book cataloger, correct.

And in addition, as is and has been done, they are replaced by post-C14, modern scholars, who have and will insist that they didn’t need to see the C14 results to know what all those old investigators didn’t know: That this is an early 15th century manuscript. Even, that it is immediately obvious. I was told, by one, that the C14 dating had no impact on their 15th century dating conclusions. But, respectfully, we can never know, because we live in a post-C14 Voynich world.

Well anyway, what do I think? Actually, I think they are all correct to some extent. Even the post-C14 experts. But how can this be? One reason that explains every opinion at once: The Voynich is a fake. All of what these experts thought they saw, and a great many amateurs also see; all the ages and purposes they opined on as being the Voynich, are, to some degree or another, in the Voynich. It all there because the Voynich is a forgery, and forgers are rarely good at getting it right. Their works are often rife with anachronisms and anomalies of all kinds, and the Voynich is a prime example of this.

The Voynich is a particularly sloppy stew, with content reflecting a very wide range of ages and styles, and so each person who examines must pick only one of them, or otherwise believe it a fake. It can’t be all these things at once, and still be genuine, or of any one time. The effect is like the parable of the three blind men feeling the elephant, each coming to different conclusions as to what it might be. It is only when one steps back, and takes in- and much more importantly, accepts all the evidence- that one can see this elephant for what it really is: A rather clumsy and inconsistent fake. That is what all this expert testimony actually tells us, without having to discard one respectable shred of it.

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2 Responses to No Expert “Got it Right”

  1. I think that the C14 measurement is a verifiable analysis of the VMS. As long as no procedural errors in the analysis can be proven, the result speaks for itself. I am not surprised that the opinions of the experts vary so much, since they are very subjective assessments with little evidence. For my part, I prefer to stick to measured results rather than opinions.
    There is a statement circulating on the internet that the ink was not applied much later after the parchment was made. Unfortunately, I cannot find a source for this research. But if this is true, then the last doubts about the authenticity of the VMS would be removed.

    • proto57 says:

      Hi Matthias: Thank you for your interest.

      “I think that the C14 measurement is a verifiable analysis of the VMS. As long as no procedural errors in the analysis can be proven, the result speaks for itself.”

      The C14 results are a verifiable analysis of the age of the calfskin of the VMS, that’s important to keep in mind. It does not date the ink, or give any indication of when the inks were applied. As for “procedural errors”, I trust none were made. But the individual results for different leaves, as much as 60 years apart, were combined and averaged to get a narrower range, that aligned with expectations of a shorter creation for the book than 60 years. From : “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. These folios have been bound together into one volume centuries ago, and the book production process is likely to have taken considerably less time than these 50-60 years. Under this assumption, and in particular the obtained result that the dating of the folios is tightly clustered (as shown above), each sheet provides a measurement or ‘observation’ of the MS creation.”

      To make it clear, because my position on this has been often misunderstood, and mis-stated: I believe the calfskin the Voynich was created on was made sometime in the late 14th through early 15th century, and that the raw results of the radiocarbon testing are on the whole, correct. I disagree that any “assumption” should have been used to mathematically used to reduce the results to a desired, shorter, range of dates. Think about this: I am agreeing with you, that measured results are important, and that we should know them, and use them, not manipulated data.

      “I am not surprised that the opinions of the experts vary so much, since they are very subjective assessments with little evidence. For my part, I prefer to stick to measured results rather than opinions.”

      But there are several things to keep in mind:

      1) Genuine items will usually generate less diversity and range of opinions, because they exhibit expected and understandable features for their materials, environment, and the knowledge and style of the people who created them. It is hard for a forger to stick to one range of time and geography when choosing elements, styles and techniques when creating a fake. So there is a value when we see a large volume of opinion, spread so thin.

      2) There is not “little evidence” at all, there is a great deal of evidence in the case of the Voynich: There are over 200 pages of text of some kind, and for the cryptographer and language translator, large amounts of material are usually an asset. Plus, there should be ample illustrations to assign “labels” to. There is a large quantity of diverse illustrations… plants, people, animals, buildings, geography, and many nameless things. This is all a tremendous trove of information, not a small amount at all. In other cases, where only scraps of any item, with a few words or one picture are found, it is more understandable that with less evidence… as you say… would make things difficult to identify the item. But this is a treasure trove of information, so it makes it all the more suspicious that nothing identifies it.

      3) Also, the provenance should be a great quantity of evidence: We are told almost exactly where the Voynich was for at least 400 years: Who it was owned by, what libraries and collections it was in, and so on. And the lives of the people who touched it, and supposedly wrote about it, are dissected to a fine degree. And yet, not a scrap of identifiable discussion, not a mention of the Voynich in any list of any catalog? Again, I agree with your premise that “little evidence” would be bad, but it is not the case for the Voynich.

      4) The frequent use of the false, or incorrect claim “the experts got it right” (the subject of this post of course) has another element to it, that I didn’t outline: The reason this saw is repeated is of course because the value of experts getting it right is important to many. Maybe not you for the reasons you give (and you dismiss it), and maybe not me for other reasons. But forget us for a moment: It is claimed true, because those who claim it, see a value in it. And that value is to use it to show that the experts opinions matched the C14. So when we know the experts did not conclude on the C14 date range, BY THEIR OWN STANDARDS, being consistent, the people who use this claim, knowing it is incorrect, should actually be concerned. My point is that what you and I think here is not entirely the point: The point is a hypocrisy in using a false claim that does not actually even apply to the case they are using it for, and then ignoring when I point out it actually tells them something else… by their own standards. It would be like a prosecutor saying “We know it is the killer because ten people saw him in the building in Chicago”, and then being told those ten people actually said they saw him either in France or Texas at the time. It should, by the detectives standard, change their opinion. But instead, they either go silent, or continue to insist “We know he killed the guy, because ten people…”. You see what I mean? You and I can say the ten people don’t matter… or I can say the whole case is a fraud because the witnesses don’t agree… but it is the prosecutor who insists it is true, and that it the interesting and telling thing to me.

      “There is a statement circulating on the internet that the ink was not applied much later after the parchment was made.”

      And this is how falsehoods are born, and spread, and become believed by many. It is very difficult to get to the source of any information, but the most important thing. I have seen many such claims, about hundreds of little “factoids”. Sometimes we can track them down, so that we can verify or discard them. In the case of the one you mention, I don’t have an exact source, but several, and they are all assumptions: That is, there is no “measured result” that tells us this is true, it is just “assumed” that this would have been done. Then others state it as fact: That the ink was applied not long after the calfskin was prepared, when it is not a fact at all. There are many things like this, with either no, or incorrect assumptions making it into the mainstream as facts. They are too numerous to mention, but my page about myths covers a few of the major ones:

      But if, as above… and I agree with you… you value “measured results” over opinion, you should be careful what you accept as known when using them to base your own conclusions on. I’ve been at this a long time, and with a great deal of time and effort chase many such claims, and found that most are just smoke and mirrors.

      “Unfortunately, I cannot find a source for this research. But if this is true, then the last doubts about the authenticity of the VMS would be removed.”

      Well as I pointed out above, it seems there is no research to back up the claim the ink was applied soon after the calfskin was prepared, only hopeful guessing based on the preconception of a genuine and old Voynich. But it is interesting that you write “last doubts”, which sounds as though you believe this all started with doubts about the authenticity of the Voynich, and that these have been gradually removed over time. But the story has been, on the whole, the polar opposite: The genuine nature… none fake, none forgery… has for the overwhelming most part been the accepted case, with only a few sporadic suspicions of fakery being timidly voiced. That is, the case for fakery has grown, not diminished, as the problems with the Voynich… the anachronisms and anomalies… have come to light, and demonstrated themselves to be unanswerable. So for myself, I would word the sentence like this,

      “Taking everything we actually know about the Voynich, and discarding genuine/old biased opinion, the last doubts about a modern, forged Voynich would be removed”.

      But if that is just me, fine! The thing is, it is not just me, and an ever increasing number of people have come onboard, and realized my hypothesis is the most likely to be correct. And I don’t actually hope nor expect you to agree, but I find you sort of rebuttal and opinion the most valuable, because it is very insightful and well-meant.

      Thank you for the input.

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