I can’t tell newcomers how to set about understanding the manuscript; so much – far too much – is said about it and far too little known.
Perhaps what I can do, as antidote to the previous post, is tell you how I’d go about tutoring a student whose thesis proposal had (by some miracle) been accepted and concerned the study of this manuscript.
The first task will be to clear away a century of accumulated rubbish. So what about this manuscript is established and unanimously recognised as fact?
1. It is made from rough vellum.
There are still a large number of unanswered questions here. What sort of vellum is it? I don’t mean ‘did it come from sheep or calf or yak’. Most museums don’t specify in that degree unless it is pertinent. The description of “rough vellum” is now nearly a century old and though amateurs, or those relying on amateur descriptions (including myself) have sometimes termed it parchment, the earliest appraisals are unanimous: it’s vellum. But the outstanding questions include, for example, finding exactly where, during the early fifteenth century, vellum of such poor finish was being produced in the same dimensions as the Voynich folios: 225 mm x 160 mm.
Hint: just research what is so; don’t get side-tracked into creating explanations for what is not in evidence.
Trying to amass this sort of information and data will require more than a little reading, and quite a bit of walking and waiting. Walking to, and through, collections and waiting about until the rare books’ librarians have time to sit discussing minutiae with you. I’d suggest interviewing members of the conservation departments first, if you can. But perhaps I’m biased on that score.
So that should take you, say, a month or two.
2. According to the McCrone letter, the manuscript’s inks are iron-gall in varying grades (i.e. varying proportions of the two basic ingredients). So for the next stage in your research, try to get hold of the raw data from which the McCrone report was written. See whether you can find comparative data to graph it to, in order to explain the ink(s). If you have no background in organic or inorganic chemistry, you may need some help understanding the raw data. Pay particular attention to the cited Standard Methods and O.Ps.
OK so far?
3. The parchment’s drawings
and text have always been considered inscribed at the same time as the accompanying areas of text, and by the same person(s). Discover whether, or where, this was a usual practice – it was certainly was not usual method for production of western Latin manuscripts in the early fifteenth century, and yet the hand (-writing/script) is evidently that of trained and well-practiced scribes. So can you find an exception in the Latin milieu, or suggest another situation (compatible with the type of parchment and iron-gall formulae) where a manuscript might have been produced in this way?
This is quite enough for a fourth-year honours essay and your conclusions should clarify some aspects of the artefact’s provenance and production.
Notice that, as yet, you have not needed any reference to the huge body of secondary writing about the Voynich manuscript. It’s all about the manuscript as an artefact, and any conclusions reached come from solid data and internal evidence.
Like any other physical object, its history is embedded in its physical properties and attributes which necessarily inform us of where and when its materials originate. Only when those basics are firmly established is there any point to historical research or the three-tiered analysis of imagery.
But let’s suppose you want to reach instead for an M.A. You’ll have to include:
What you’d need for this stage are some precise measurements of distances between the stations and details (preferably scientific) of the type of cord or thread used to secure the quires to each other and to the original backing (now removed). It will involve weeks of research into standard binding styles – not merely within Europe – but reasonably limited to the first half of the fifteenth century. In case anyone takes this to heart – particular attention should be paid to whether the cord(s) is/are “S”-twist, or “Z”-twist. 25/03/2015.
In an ideal world, you would now find that there is only one place in the world, during the fifteenth century, where vellum of this sort met the range of similar iron-gall, and distance left routinely between stations indicated by one or more of the sets of needle-holes that we see made here. Whether or not your results are ideal, this is exactly the sort of paper that a professional industrial archaeologist would be expected to produce. Assuming that you could get that sort of access to the manuscript.
So there you are. That’s the sort of information we needed a century ago, and without which all the historical theories and constructed stories are no more than palaces built on marsh.
So long for now.