Voynich manuscript: the Mexican theory

A lot of people have recently asked me my opinion about the Voynich ‘New World’ theories, for example suggestions that it was written in Mexico in an Aztec language, because the plants look Mexican.

Such theories tend to date the production of the manuscript to the 1500’s, and explain the carbon dating (1400’s) by suggesting, for example, that the vellum was kept unused for decades.

Personally I prefer not to engage in speculation about authorship and dates until we have more evidence about the script and language, and in any case my linguistic analysis suggests a strong Near Eastern/Asian linguistic dimension. However, recently I came across a piece of information which might be of interest in this debate.

I recently completed a detailed discussion of Voynich page f6v in which I present evidence for identifying that plant as Ricinus communis, the Castor Oil/Bean plant. To my mind that evidence is strong, drawing on analyses by a number of plant specialists as well as near-contemporary illustrations.

Ricinus_compared

I was then looking at an intriguing book called Gardens of New Spain: How Mediterranean Plants and Foods Changed America and noticed that the earliest confirmed evidence for this plant in Mexico is the 1750’s (p129). The author says that the plant could have arrived before that, but there is no evidence for it.

This implies that if the plant on Voynich page 6v is Ricinus communis, the Castor Oil plant, then how could anyone in Mexico have seen that plant in the 1500’s, some 200 years before its known first appearance in Mexico?

Reference:

Dunmire, W. (2004) Gardens of New Spain: How Mediterranean Plants and Foods Changed America University of Texas Press.

 

 

 

8 Comments

  1. 53 = Dionaea muscipula.

    Something interesting that I couldn’t prove is that Coriander = Cilantro(spanish)= Kuratu (which is the adapted name in Guarani a native language from Paraguay).

    About Guarani: http://aboutworldlanguages.com/guarani
    Dictionary (guarani-spanish):http://solocorrientes.blogspot.com/2010/06/normal-0-21-false-false-false_01.html

    Maybe exist a connection between continents and the author used a native american language.

  2. I listened to your radio interview tonight and carefully read your article. I like your approach, and agree with nearly all of your more general conclusions. I used your suggestions about reading the first word on the page to very tentatively identify your problematic crocus on f27r as Jimson weed, and I’m trying to track down illustrations of some other plants. I see that you are now following my work at academia.edu. Perhaps we could assist each other to read the Voynich.

    • Stephen Bax

      Thanks, I’ll certainly look into it.

  3. Matthew Dean

    Context within the corpus of period manuscripts and imagery (both based on your personal research, and the laudable crowdsourcing here) is an invaluable service your platform and exploration are providing, Stephen.

    The art historian in me thanks you, and the musician also is moved to point out that the poetry selected (deliberately, and from two sources!) has the sequential repetition so characteristic of this period, with only slight variations of new content introduced in each line, exactly as we see some places in the VM, and which have concerned some (non-specialist) prior readers as to the meaningful content of the text.

    But this format should be nothing surprising in manuscripts like this. Nor should the idea that with the extant VM herbal we’re only looking at one portion of the compendium it originally represented (or was selectively copied from). And the ideas that these documents always had neatly aligned and rubricated text, or always had corrections, should also have evaporated with examples recently shown in these comments sections. The more of this context is established, the easier it will be to attack the text as you are doing diligently and transparently.

    • Matthew Dean

      Clarification: that the poetry selected (deliberately, and from two sources!) *in Marco’s linked Virgil Master chart.* (which by my count has 26 rather than the expected 28 divisions, FWIW).

  4. marco

    I agree that the Mexican idea does not help in making sense of the manuscript, while the serious botanic analysis you have been presenting in your paper and on this site is very promising. The contribution of the anonymous Finnish biologist is also impressive.

    I guess that an expert in ancient astronomy / astrology could make similar considerations about the cosmological / astrological illustrations. For the little I know, Arab star names were currently used also in Europe. It has been noted that the astrological diagrams in the Voynich manuscript are not so dissimilar from astrological charts in other ancient manuscripts: http://d2hiq5kf5j4p5h.cloudfront.net/25317601.jpg
    https://archive.org/stream/TheVoynichManuscript/Voynich_Manuscript#page/n123/mode/1up
    I wonder if anything like the star maps in folio 68r are present in other manuscripts of the time.

    The fairly conventional representation of the 12 sings of the zodiac and the T-shaped images of the world also support a European or nearby origin. Not to mention the Latin / German / Voynich hybrid language of the last page translated by Albus and mentioned in your paper. German does not seem to me a language that one expects to find in XVI Century Mexico.

    • Stephen Bax

      Yes, I have puzzled over the star pictures, and I do agree that it is highly likely that there are reminiscences of Arabic/Persian names within them. Where is the star map you pointed to taken from? It looks interesting.

      BTW, some have disputed Albus’ translation and the German, but it seems viable to me.

      Thanks

      • Marco

        The image comes from the Getty Museum’s site, apparently from a 1405 manuscript
        http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artObjectDetails?artobj=253176
        I guess it could represent the mansions of the Moon, but I am far from certain about this.

        If I understand correctly, the two columns of text below the diagram are from the Alchandreana (a Latin astrological treaty based on Arab sources?) and the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville (XI, 13).

        I got the image from this blog post:
        http://www.bigbureaucracy.com/?p=3025

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