London: Scientists claim to have cracked one of the puzzles surrounding Voynich Manuscript, the world's most mysterious handwritten book, which has perplexed experts with its incomprehensible and "totally alien" language.
Using carbon dating technology, they have finally been able to determine for the first time that the manuscript was written in the early 15th century, more than 100 years earlier than previously thought.
And while they are no closer to understanding what the complex text -- the bizarre sequence of symbols, charts and figures -- actually means, putting a date on it takes them a huge step closer to discovering what it is really about, the Daily Mail reported.
It was discovered near Rome in 1912 by an antique book dealer and has been passed down through generations of scientists who have concluded that it is some kind of language
-- even if they don't know what it means and who was the author.
The latest to take up the challenge were a team from the University of Arizona who dissected four 1mm by 6mm sections from four sample pages they were given by the Beinecke Rare
Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University, which is where it is being stored.
Lead researcher Greg Hodgins, a chemist and archaeological scientist from UA's Department of Physics and School of Anthropology, has a certain fascination for the strange book.
"Is it a code, a cipher of some kind? People are doing statistical analysis of letter use and word use?the tools that have been used for code breaking. But they still haven't figured it out," said Dr Hodgins.
According to him, his team found that some of the colours were consistent with those used in the Renaissance.
But what really helped was the carbon dating process, which is where scientists measure the amount of radioisotope Carbon 14 which occurs naturally in objects and decays at a predictable rate, making it possible to use it to date things.
That process allowed Dr Hodgins to pinpoint the early 15th century as the only time the manuscript could have been written.
"I find this manuscript is absolutely fascinating as a window into a very interesting mind. Piecing these things together was fantastic.'
"It's a great puzzle that no one has cracked, and who doesn't love a puzzle?" he said.
Dr Hodgins added that he found the text shows "strange characteristics like repetitive word use or the exchange of one letter in a sequence.
"Oddities like that make it really hard to understand the meaning. Secrecy is sometimes associated with alchemy, and so it would be consistent with that tradition if the knowledge
contained in the book was encoded."
First Published: Wednesday, February 16, 2011, 08:56