It’s one of the world’s most mysterious books, a centuries-old manuscript written in an unknown or coded language that no one has cracked.
Scholars have spent their lives puzzling over the Voynich manuscript, whose intriguing mix of elegant writing and drawings of strange plants and naked women has some believing it holds magical powers.
The weathered book is locked away in a vault at Yale university’s Beinecke library, emerging only occasionally.
The manuscript is named after antiquarian Wilfrid Voynich who bought it in about 1912 from a collection of books belonging to the Jesuits in Italy, and eventually propelled it into the public eye.
Theories abound about who wrote it and what it means.
For a long time, it was believed to be the work of 13th century English Franciscan friar Roger Bacon whose interest in alchemy and magic landed him in jail.
But that theory was discarded when the manuscript was carbon dated and found to have originated between 1404 and 1438.
Others point to a young Leonardo da Vinci, someone who wrote in code to escape the Inquisition, an elaborate joke or even an alien who left the book behind when leaving Earth.
The plants drawn have never been identified, the astronomical charts don’t reveal much. The women also offer few clues.
Scores have tried to decode the Voynich, including top cryptologists such as William Friedman who helped break Japan’s “Purple” cipher during the second world war.
The only person to have made any headway is Indiana Jones. The fictitious archeologist manages to crack it in a novel.
Fiction aside, the Beinecke library gets thousands of emails every month from people claiming to have decoded it, says Rene Zandbergen, a space engineer who runs a recognised blog on the manuscript, which he has consulted several times.
“More than 90% of all the access to their digital library is only for the Voynich manuscript,” he said.