Getting it right – the first formal analysis of the Voynich map

For those who like to track the history of ideas, and are frustrated by the obstacles to doing so in this area of interest – you have my sympathy.

Apart from anything else, it is hugely embarassing to conclude from some such source as that nothing has yet been done or written in an area you wish to explore, only to find out that quite a bit has been done, but those of whom you enquire prefer not to have you know about it.

In the interests of conservative scholarly standards, then, I thought I’d re-publish a list of the earliest posts in the seminal study of the folio which is rightly described as the Voynich map – and which covers the whole of  folio 86v (now foliated in the Beinecke’s new scans as ‘folio 85v-and-86r’)

Efforts to understand that folio, prior to my analysis of it, consisted of  the occasional speculation, bit of mailing-list kite-flying comment, observation about one or two details and was otherwise hypothesis-consistent imagination. For a clear sense of how things stood see one of Nick Pelling’s posts,  ‘A Miscellany of Nine-Rosette Links ciphermysteries, 29th May 2010.

After my work had been published –  three or four of years afterwards, I think –  Rene Zandbergen directed his readers to what he called a ‘silly comment’ offered fifteen years before on a mailing list, in which he had day-dreamed that something on the folio might be Mecca.

I did not think this sufficient reason to grant him  credit for precedence – as he apparently expected I would.  Zandbergen has always displayed a certain difficulty when it comes to understanding the difference between the conclusions drawn from one’s own detailed, published research, and what may be termed a free-range ‘idea’.

Those who later strove to create ‘alternatives’ – invariably more congenial to a Eurocentric thesis – did so either in response to a ‘suggestion’ whose motivation they may not have understood, or  because genuinely misled by that determined censorship of the present writer’s work by the owner of  The omission is substantial when one considers that voynichimagery constitutes the single largest body of analytical studies ever provided for the manuscript’s imagery. (Of course, since changes to that site occur without date-stamping, the situation might change overnight).

Concerning the map, omission of reference to the seminal study can only serve to distort perceptions of how – and why – the study of this folio suddenly gained a prominence after 2012 which it had not had not enjoyed between 1912 and 2010.   The critical factor was that my detailed analysis showed clearly that the map is a map, and that it is not a product of the Latin European cartographic tradition, even if there are indications that it came to influence some of the early cartes marine produced from Genoa and Majorca – another original and documented conclusion of my own research. It also demonstrated the extreme improbability of Latin Christian – or any ‘central European’ having had access to some of those routes before the Voynich manuscript was made.

This, I’d suggest, was the sort of thing which led to ‘suggestions’ that others create some more congenial interpretation of the map.. not to further our understanding of the manuscript, but to preserve the narrative of a wholly Latin cultural content – which notion is clearly untrue to the primary evidence, but compatible with one or another Euro-centric storyline.

Since 2011, the determination by some to pretend the original study did not exist has to date caused at least four scholars unnecessary embarrassment: first, a specialist in cartes marine, who had been approached with an ‘idea’ that the map  might relate to that subject.  He himself, knowing my professional work and my interest in this manuscript, realised that the ‘idea’ was actually one of the original conclusions of my research, and declined to become involved.  My work on the map, to be included in a two volume set of essays, was already with the publisher in 2014, when Juergen Wastl and his co-author announced excitement over the ‘possibility’ [sic!] that the folio ‘might be’ map.

One hears that Wastl and Feger had been misled by relying on, whose account of the map’s study is… well, of an enthusiastic amateur rather than a scholarly standard in both selection of content and in apparatus.

Whether or not  Wastl’s ideas about the folio are compatible with mine, either in the general or in the particular, as professional scholars Wastl and Feger would  read, note, and acknowledge any such seminal study as matter of scholarly routine.  It is a pity the information was lacking in the sources they thought to consult, resulting not only in embarrassment but in my publisher’s inconvenience.

(See the comments to ciphermysteries dated  February 11, 2014 at 6:21 pm;   ( February 12, 2014 at 8:50 am) and ( February 15, 2014 at 5:26 pm ).


To make the issue clear, then, here are the very earliest posts in what became a very detailed historical and technical analysis, a part of which I shared online:

THE VOYNICH WORLD – first analysis of the Voynich map:

Posts published at  ‘Voynichimagery Notes’ (Blogger) posts:-

‘Orientation marks: North and North-West’   September 29th., 2011.
The Western Quadrant‘,     October 2nd., 2011
Eastern Quadrant..’ October 9th., 2011
South (and far East) Quadrant’    October 23rd., 2011

North Quadrant:
The summary ‘mimimap’ [inset] in fol.86v – northern quadrant, which included several posts, the first on  May 4th., 2012 with some additional notes   October 22nd., 2011.  Much shortened and corrected identification for the merloned ‘castle’ – reflecting more recent research – 10/04/2017.

Link to the ‘Etymologies-Computus’ map (8thC AD)  May 8th., 2012

.Concluding remarks March 17th., 2012.


Published through

Map: Mediterranean to China (made in 12thC Sicily)              2012/07/16

fol.86v: Introduction to a map ~ geog.                                        2012/07/22

fol. 86v: emblems of direction Pty 1                                               2012/07/26

fol 86v: Emblems of direction Pt 2 ‘west’ (shortened)              2012/07/29

fol 86v: A Curious orientation ~ principles                                 2012/07/31

fol.86v Emblems of direction: South and East ~ principles      2012/08/02

[The north roundel, an inset ‘minimap’}

fol 86v: the inset ‘minimap’ Pt1: from the Black Sea ~ geog    2012/08/05

Hierapolis ~ incidental post  superseded                                             2012/08/09

fol 86v The inset ‘minimap’ Pt2: the Egyptian shore                2012/08/11

fol 86v minimap ~ some footnotes ~ comment                          2012/08/13

fol 86v Patterns and points ~ comment                                      2012/08/14

fol.86v: of Portolan charts and Trabizond ~ historical background     2012/08/15

The north-west roundel – Angel of the Rose                              2012/08/19

More on Trebizond ~ historical background                                2012/08/21

[between north and east]

fol.86v Ways to the east: the river roads – Revised post             2012/08/22

fol 86v Ways to the east: the desert road                                         2012/08/25

fol.86v Roads east: Beacons ~ stylistics                                            2012/08/28

Across the North – intro: fol.86v and prototypes for the Month-emblems  2012/11/21

A matter of scale – methodology note                                               2012/08/29

Who knew? ~ comment                                                                       2012/09/02

fol.86v The Square world ~ stylistics                                               2012/09/03

[East roundel]

Fol 86v East roundel: Lotus and Paeony ~ geog; stylistics            2012/09/08

Select fol 86v: from East to the South ~ incidental post                 2012/09/12

[South roundel]

fol.86v The great sea ~ Pt1                                                      2012/09/17

fol 86v: The great sea: Part 2                                                   2012/09/19

Trade routes and scripts ~ historical background                 2012/09/20

Afterword to ‘Routes and Scripts’                                           2012/11/16

fol 86v: South toward West: stage 1 The Sahel                     2012/09/24

fol 86v: South towards West Pt 2 ~ geog.                               2012/09/26

fol 86v West roundel – Password protected                            2012/10/02

NMB – script. ~ speculation                                                       2012/09/29.


Further work has been done since then by the present author, the matter adding to and refining the original commentary. I’d emphasise that what was offered online were  selections from the full study, and were edited and tailored to suit the needs of those whose interest is chiefly in the written part of the text.  That, indeed, was the aim in writing posts to voynichimagery – to provide informed commentary which might aid identification of the script, language or cipher.  For later references to the map,  search ‘folio 86v’  or ‘fol.85v-and-86r’.


Note – I recollect, some time ago, that another writer  identified the map’s ‘merloned castle’ as Constantinople.  If any reader knows where I can find that reference, I’d be most grateful for the opportunity to acknowledge the precedent.

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