25 thoughts on “Getting started…

  1. Do Linear-B and friends qualify as older ciphers? Is a text that was not originally intended to be secret writing but one that hasn’t as yet been decoded a cipher? How about secret glyphs such as those in the catacombs? Is any symbol whose meaning is known to only a few a cipher? But I digress. Good luck and best wishes on this venture.

    1. Scott: probably not Linear-B, but there is – as always with these things – definitely a continuum. It will take a little while to work out where The Cipher Foundation should draw its line. 🙂

    1. John: thanks! There’s a lot to be done behind the scenes just yet, so it will doubtless take a little while to make the whole thing happen in a reasonably complete way. 😐

  2. I think this is great. It offers a whole new way of communicating and you never know who may come forward. If not for the ability to see things online, my memory may have never been jogged. And there were some who did not want my memory to return!! P.S. (3rd interview at bungalow -in the presence of JT).

    1. SirHubert: perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve been putting the Voynich Manuscript off until last… but I agree that a single reliable transcription would be a good thing to include here.

      Having said that, I’ve had a strong (and well-documented) suspicion since mid-2006 that the transcriptions we use are broken, in that they don’t capture various scribal flourishes (specifically word-final ‘v’ characters, i.e. EVA ‘n’); so I’d be hesitant to endorse the transcriptions that have been done to date (even GC’s) as being quite sufficient to decrypt it. But I suppose some mostly-good stuff is better than no properly-good stuff at all. :-/

  3. Nick: given that many of the statistical tests run in recent years used EVA, we still need that available to check the results and findings of these tests.

    I do take your point that transcriptions involve assumptions and limitations and it’s important that these are understood. But as long as you appreciate that, unless EVA is riddled with transcription errors then it’s perfectly fine if used appropriately.

  4. SirHubert: actually, my point is a little deeper – which is that I suspect the current set of transcriptions includes an implicit barrier that stops us understanding the Voynich Manuscript.

    That is, I think that we are still trapped at the “pre-transcription” stage of understanding Voynichese – that it was designed in a cunning enough manner that it turns our modern assumptions against us. So it’s not transcription errors that I’m worried about (because we have pretty good scans to work from) so much as a misinterpreted transcription basis that gets us nowhere. If our collective decision about what does and does not constitute a letter is wrong, then our transcriptions won’t get us anywhere.

    Conversely, grasping what a proper transcription is may propel ourselves forward to a whole new level of understanding. So it depends how you look at it all, I guess. 🙂

  5. Nick: yes, I do understand that, and also that one’s approach to transcription reflects and thereby reaffirms one’s preconceptions. My point, really, was that while different transcription alphabets can make a really big difference to statistics at the character level, they needn’t at word level as long as the transcription system is internally consistent.

    You may be right that a fundamental misunderstanding in parsing Voynichese is the main thing holding us back, but isn’t that more for Cipher Mysteries discussion than a resources site?

    1. SirHubert: OK, I’ll admit I’m still struggling to draw the exact delineation between the two sites in my mind. But in the specific case of the Voynich transcriptions, I’m stuck with a sense in which they are, let’s say, ‘ambivalent evidence’. I’ve seen so many pointless and largely uninformed statistical tests run on various transcriptions over the years that I’m wondering whether current transcriptions are genuinely helpful or just poisoned apples.

      So in one very large sense, I suspect that being able to transcribe the Voynich might well be the key to being able to read it. As a result, part of me wants to encourage people to look at the Voynich with fresh eyes: far too many people look at transcription X and conclude that “the map is the territory”.

  6. I should be interested to know whether any comprehensive list has been published of medieval manuscripts that include ciphered sections and/or invented characters. Perhaps with a cut-off date of 1450?
    one instance might be that copy of the French ‘ Li Livres dou Tresor as ‘Libro de Tesoro’.

    ” whilst most of the manuscript is a plaintext encyclopaedia of its time [cf. Isidore’s Etymologiae etc], a section appears to be written in a combination of an unknown alphabet and ciphers. It has random length of words (space being encrypted) and a total alphabet of 126 “letters”. The alphabet is fluidly written over several pages and is clearly designed to be read back easily in the future by holders of the key.

    Posterior plaintext copies exist of the text, showing that the encrypted piece is an alchemical recipe (almost a prayer)”.

    I’m not sure whether that text is the same as that ‘il Sabio’s’ but of the latter it is said that the invented characters are a modified Cufic script, and that (again to quote) “each letter of the Roman alphabet has ten or twelve corresponding signs in the ‘secret character'”.

    1. Diane: yes, there’s a very good list on Philip Neal’s site. It was compiled from a book published in 1954 and I don’t know what new discoveries have been made since, but it’s a great resource. He has an equally good list of MS with exotic scripts also. Well worth looking through imho.

  7. Sir,
    I wonder if I can propose a cryptographic challenge based on a cipher of my own development.
    Thank you in advance.
    PS .: I’ll use a plaintext in the English language.

    1. Alfredo Ribeiro Pereira: I’m very sorry, but the point of the Cipher Foundation website is to help people crack existing historical ciphers, and not for creating new ones. 🙁

      1. Ah, interesting. I’ve never seen it before and I couldn’t find any other source online using Google’s Image Search. Whoever transcribed it made some pretty major errors… 🙂

        Thanks for the education!

  8. What is the source of the ‘genuine’ original if it was lost. Who took the photo of it. Does this derive from Dora’s book? Do we know how such an article managed to become lost? Do we know that the item at the Birthplace museum is a copy and why it is so different i.e. not in Elgar’s hand – clearly it is a different hand to that version commonly circulated

  9. …and why is the exact rotational position of several – more than a few – of the characters so ambiguous in the original. How on earth did Elgar expect anyone, let alone Dora, to decode it with such ambiguities!

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