Hyde & Rugg:

We solve hard problems

The Voynich Manuscript

The Voynich Manuscript is an ancient manuscript that nobody has been able to decipher. Gordon showed that the manuscript could easily have been produced as a meaningless hoax, with no code involved.

The Voynich Manuscript in brief:

  • Discovered by Wilfried Voynich in 1912
  • Bizarre illustrations, and text in an unknown script
  • Written on vellum carbon dated to about 1420
  • Resisted decipherment; nobody knew whether it was a code, an unknown language or a hoax
  • It appeared too strange to be a language, but too complex to be a hoax
  • Gordon showed in 2004 that it could have been hoaxed using low-tech methods

Why we tackled it

Gordon and Jo had developed a method called the Verifier approach, which was designed to find errors in experts' reasoning about difficult problems. We needed a case study on which to try out our approach.

The Voynich Manuscript was a good test case because it had been studied by expert codebreakers and linguists for ninety years, but had never been deciphered.

Gordon started with a "light" version of Verifier, and within a few weeks had found key mistaken assumptions in previous research. He also found a way of replicating the unusual features of the manuscript's text using low-tech ancient techniques.

His conclusion was that the Voynich Manuscript's key features could be explained as the products of a hoax that produced meaningless gibberish.

His work was published in the journal Cryptologia in 2004.

More information, links and resources


A page from the Voynich Manuscript