10 Undeciphered Codes and Texts

5. Voynich Manuscript

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The Voynich manuscript is a handwritten book thought to have been written in the early 15th century and comprising about 240 vellum pages,most with illustrations. Although many possible authors have been proposed, the author, script, and language remain unknown. It has been described as “the world’s most mysterious manuscript”. Generally presumed to be some kind of ciphertext, the Voynich manuscript has been studied by many professional and amateur cryptographers, including American and British codebreakers from both World War I and World War II. Yet it has defied all decipherment attempts, becoming a historical cryptology cause célèbre. The mystery surrounding it has excited the popular imagination, making the manuscript a subject of both fanciful theories and novels. In 2009, University of Arizona researchers performed C14 dating on the manuscript’s vellum, which they assert (with 95% confidence) was made between 1404 and 1438. In addition, the McCrone Research Institute in Chicago found that much of the ink was added not long afterwards, confirming that the manuscript is an authentic medieval document.


4. Byblos Syllabary

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The Byblos syllabary , also known as the Pseudo-hieroglyphic script , Proto-Byblian , Proto-Byblic , or Byblic , is officially an undeciphered writing system, known from ten inscriptions found in Byblos. The inscriptions are engraved on bronze plates and spatulas, and carved in stone. They were excavated by Maurice Dunand, from 1928 to 1932, and published in 1945 in his monograph Byblia Grammata. The inscriptions are conventionally dated to the second millennium BC, probably between the 18th and 15th centuries BC.


3. Beale Ciphers

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The Beale ciphers are a set of three ciphertexts, one of which allegedly states the location of a buried treasure of gold, silver and jewels estimated to be worth over USD$65 million as of 2010. The other two ciphertexts allegedly describe the content of the treasure, and list the names of the treasure’s owners’ next of kin, respectively. The story of the three ciphertexts originates from an 1885 pamphlet detailing treasure being buried by a man named Thomas Jefferson Beale in a secret location in Bedford County, Virginia, in 1820. Beale entrusted the box containing the encrypted messages with a local innkeeper named Robert Morriss and then disappeared, never to be seen again. The innkeeper gave the three encrypted ciphertexts to a friend before he died. The friend then spent the next twenty years of his life trying to decode the messages, and was able to solve only one of them which gave details of the treasure buried and the general location of the treasure. He published all three ciphertexts in a pamphlet, although most of the originals were destroyed in a warehouse fire. Since the publication of the pamphlet, a number of attempts have been made to decode the two remaining ciphertexts and to find the treasure, but all have resulted in failure.


2.Khitan Scripts

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The Khitan scripts were the writing systems for the now-extinct Khitan language, used in the 10th-12th century by the Khitan people. who had created the Liao Empire in north-eastern China. There were two scripts, known as the large script and the small script . These were functionally independent and appear to have been used simultaneously. The Khitan scripts continued to be in use to some extent by the Jurchens for several decades after the fall of the Liao Dynasty, until the Jurchens fully switched to a script of their own. Examples of the scripts appeared most often on epitaphs and monuments, although other fragments sometimes surface. Many scholars recognize that the Khitan scripts have not been fully deciphered, and that more research and discoveries would be necessary for a proficient understanding of them. Our knowledge of the Khitan language, which was written by the Khitan script, is quite limited as well. Although there are several clues to its origins, which might point in different directions.


1. Cascajal Block

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The Cascajal Block is a writing tablet-sized serpentinite slab which has been dated to the early first millennium BCE incised with hitherto unknown characters that may represent the earliest writing system in the New World. Archaeologist Stephen D. Houston of Brown University said that this discovery helps to “link the Olmec civilization to literacy, document an unsuspected writing system, and reveal a new complexity to [the Olmec] civilization.” The block holds a total of 62 glyphs, some of which resemble plants such as corn and ananas, or animals such as insects and fish. Many of the symbols are more abstract boxes or blobs. The symbols on the Cascajal block are unlike those of any other writing system in Mesoamerica, such as in Mayan languages or Isthmian, another extinct Mesoamerican script. The Cascajal block is also unusual because the symbols apparently run in horizontal rows and “there is no strong evidence of overall organization. The sequences appear to be conceived as independent units of information”. All other known Mesoamerican scripts typically use vertical rows.

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