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ASHS 2015 Annual Conference

The Voynich Manuscript as a MesoAmerican Herbal

Wednesday, August 5, 2015: 11:15 AM
Maurepas (Sheraton Hotel New Orleans)
Jules Janick, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, United States
Arthur O. Tucker, Delaware State University, Dover, DE, United States
The bizarre Voynich Manuscript, discovered in 1912 in Italy by the Polish book dealer Wilfrid Voynich (1930–1965), has eluded decipherment despite repeated attempts by world renowned cryptologists. The style of the plant illustrations is similar to 16th century codices from Mexico (e.g., Codex Cruz-Badianus).  Of the 309 plants or plant parts illustrated, 51 (17% of the total), have been identified as indigenous to MesoAmerica from Texas, west to California, and  south to Nicaragua, pointing to an Aztec botanic garden in central Mexico, quite possibly Huaztepec (Morelos) or the palace gardens of Netzahualcoyotl (Tezcoco, México).  Of the 18 animals in the manuscript, 16 are indigenous and two are cattle introduced by the Spanish. One mineral crystal identified (boleite) is only found in any quality and quantity in MesoAmerica.  A search of surviving codices and manuscripts from Nueva España in the 16th century, reveals that some of the calligraphy of the Voynich Manuscript is similar to codices such as the Codex Osuna (1563–1566, Mexico City). The text is based on a combination of an unknown alphabet or syllabary in an unknown language. The alphabet/syllabary was identified because 153 of the plants in the pharma section are accompanied by names in the symbolic language we call Voynichese. Association of the Nahuatl names of the plants allowed the transliteration of the alphabet/syllabary and made it possible to decipher the names of 12 plants, one animal, and one mineral, which appear to be loan words from classical Nahuatl, Spanish, Mixtec, and Taino.  In addition, two cities were deciphered that were associated with a map identified of the New City of Jerusalem (Puebla de los Angeles) founded by Fray Toribio de Benavente Motolinía, one of the 12 priests who accompanied Cortes to Nueva España. The main text, however, defies decipherment and seems to be in an extinct language related to Nahuatl from central Mexico, possibly Acohucatlatolli, since there are many Classical Nahuatl cognates.  We surmise that the scribe and the artist (tlacuiloque) of the Voynich Manuscript were the sons of Aztec nobility trained in the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco by Franciscan friars, and the manuscript can be dated based on internal evidence to ca. 1565. We believe the complete translation will demonstrate that this Aztec manuscript is one of the most valuable historic texts of the 16th century since it was not filtered through Spanish editing.