There are manuscripts that defy our technological progress — books composed of undecipherable languages and unknown symbols. Some authors thwarted discovery, while other scribes and their books are simply artifacts from a forgotten culture. These mysterious texts have roused the imaginations of scholars and amateur historians, but they remain an enigma. Here are ten cryptic books that continue to confound researchers. These obscure gems open up a world of intriguing possibilities.
There is a 600-year-old book written in an unknown language, containing peculiar illustrations of unknown species (plant and animal). The Voynich manuscript, discovered in 1912 and named after the book dealer who acquired it, contains chapters on herbs, biological systems, astrological and astronomical passages, and fantastical oddities — at least we think, because no one has been able to decipher its 240 pages.
The Voynich has frustrated and fascinated code breakers and armchair historians, who have come up with a number of hypothetical explanations. Some believe the entire work is a fabrication. Army cryptographer William F. Friedman concluded that the Voynich was written in a constructed language, while others see it as a piece of outsider art that was composed during a trance. A popular theory about the Voynich being decipherable only under a microscope has yielded no answers. The book’s bizarre marginalia — such as the drawing of a corpse holding its stomach that New Yorker writer Reed Johnson mentioned in his article about the appeal of the Voynich — teases the imagination further still. The Voynich remains an unsolved puzzle — and a symbol of wishful thinking.