Monthly Archives: May 2019

VMS Hot Spots

20 May 2019          

I am fond of pyrotechnics and once kayaked out to see a giant fireworks display raining flames on the water.

It was risky. Powerboats with drunk pilots whooshed around me in the dark. To add to the adrenaline, sparks were landing on my shoulders and pfushed and sizzled against the kayak. They could have ignited my clothing or hair… but I loved the front-row seat.

If you can’t resist fireworks, imagine squinting into the middle of a diamond-studded vortex, sparks exploding all around you, with 8-foot swells lifting the boat closer to the blast. It’s awesome.

So it’s natural for me to want to find volcanoes in the VMS “map”. I’ve mentioned volcanoes numerous times on my blog and on the forum, have admitted that the Naples area is on my top-5 list of locations for the VMS “map” (it’s not my only idea, but it was the first region I studied in depth after a long investigation of the water-gardens at the villa d’Este). Recently, I wrote in more detail about volcanoes and mud vents.

Historical Precedent

The idea of volcanoes on the “map” foldout is not new. I took it for granted that many people probably saw them as volcanoes. A quick Google search as I was writing this blog brought up volcano references from 1996 and there are surely some older than that, considering there’s more than one rotum that could be interpreted as a volcano.

Rotum1 (top-left circle) looks like a mountain or gaping maw. Rotum7 (bottom-left), could be flows of water, but could also be flows of lava.

Similarly there are spewy mounds between the rota that might represent volcanoes or mud vents, but they might also be geysers or natural springs.

I’ve suggested Rotum3 might be the remains of a volcanic crater (e.g., the island of Nisida, which has a small crater-shaped harbor facing the sea, with remains of an ancient castle wall on the ridge).

I’ve also mentioned Vesuvius, the island of Sicily, and volcanic areas around Damascus, Azerbaijan, and the region around Ischia. Even though there are numerous possibilities, Naples is one of my favorites because it has ancient pools that potentially connect volcanic “hot spots” with thermal bathing.

Eruptions in the 14th and 15th Centuries

In 1302, there was a “spatter cone” eruption on Ischia (you can see a debris field to the lower right on this old map labeled “Locus terribilis…”):

Ischia and volcanic debris field

In 1329, 1333, and 1381 Abraham Rees describes major eruptions of Mt. Etna. These kinds of events could have been handed down as oral or written history to the creator of the Voynich Manuscript. But are they reflected in the VMS “map”?

Cheshire One More Time (and Hopefully the Last)

Gerard Cheshire has based his entire “proto-Romance” linguistics solution around this very premise. In his recent paper he claims the VMS “map” documents a heroic rescue from a volcanic eruption.

In the previous two blogs, I commented on the linguistic flaws in his arguments. In this blog, I’ll quickly summarize his historical assertions.

Cheshire contends that nuns in the Castello Aragonese, off Ischia, wrote the VMS, and that the “map” documents the rescue from a 1444 eruption of Vulcano (in the Aeolian islands).

Other than the eruption, these ideas don’t seem to be supported by facts, …

I’ll continue looking, but I haven’t found any evidence that nuns lived on Ischia prior to c. 1600 or that they lived in King Alfonso’s Castello in the 15th century as Cheshire claims. The castle was built in 1441 just off Ischia, as shown in the diagram on the right. Cheshire writes that this is where the VMS originated.

The following timeline shows some key events related to Cheshire’s theory that appear to be at odds with his claims:

Timeline of key events in contradiction to G. Cheshire's timeline

Cheshire says that Maria of Castile organized a rescue from an eruption of Vulcano. The only rescue mission I came across was the liberation of Alfonso and his brother when they were captured in Naples. If any historian has evidence that Maria of Castile ferried victims away from a volcanic eruption in 1444, feel free to comment below.

As much as I like the idea, the interpretation of the VMS map as one or more volcanoes is problematic when applied to the Naples area. There are two sets of Ghibelline merlons on the VMS “map” that don’t mesh well with Naples. In the mid-15th century, this style of battlement was mostly confined to parts of what we now call northern Italy. For this reason, I have never committed fully to Naples and have continued researching the other possibilities on my list…

Lava and Lavage

Let’s assume for a moment that the various vents and flows on the VMS “map” are streams and sources of water, which may or may not have a volcanic source…

Picture of overhanging cave and bathing pool of San Filippo

One of my other favored locations is an area with numerous hot springs, including Bagni San Filippo, Bagnore, and Saturnia.

Of particular interest are the natural spring areas of Tuscany, such as San Filippo, where thermal pools, dripping foliage, and calciferous stalactite formations are nestled in a picturesque setting of rivers and woods—just the thing to inspire drawings of nymphly bathing and grotto-like archways and caves.

Some of the pools have calciferous walls that hold the water in step-like terraces. Others are ringed with stone walls that have been built and rebuilt for thousands of years.

Some pools appear bright blue, others green.

Sparkling calciferous pools in Bagni San Filippo [Detail courtesy of Il Vechhio]

Numerous waterfalls carve pathways through the rocks to feed the step formations:

Picture of VMS bathing pools with nymphs.

This by itself is not enough to connect San Filippo, Saturnia, or Monticiano hot springs with the VMS. There are thousands of hot springs throughout Europe, in Turkey, Germany, eastern Europe, several regions of Italy, and Sicily.

What interests me about the hot springs in Tuscany is that they are near a stronghold for Ghibelline sympathizers, which might explain the swallowtail merlons:

Pic of Ghibelline merlons on VMS "map"

Some people have suggested that the VMS pools might be color-coded for fresh or salt water. I think this is possible, especially if the pools represent something less literal than bathing pools. But, if they are bathing pools, maybe the colors represent hot or cold water. It was believed (and still is) that alternating between different temperatures can be therapeutic.

It was also believed that pools with certain temperatures and mineral balances were good for particular parts of the body, which might explain some of the drawings in the “bio” section. There’s no guarantee the different sections of the VMS relate to each other, but I’m hoping they do, because a holistic approach, on the part of the designer, appeals to me.

Moon-Shaped Medieval Castles

If the “stars” on Rotum3 (upper-right) are meant to represent water, then it’s possible it is a moon-shaped island with a castle at the top. It’s one of the reasons I think it could be an island in the Naples area. There are several crater-shaped islands, including Nisida.

In Greece, Santorini is similar (I’ve been there and if you scramble up Mesa Vuono mountain, you get a real sense of the vastness of the crater).

But if the “map” represents Tuscany, where would you find a moon-shaped island? This might be a bit of a stretch, but this 1664 map of Elba, an island off the coast of Tuscany, has a very interesting drawing of a moon-shaped castle-complex labeled Cosmopoli, with a man-made bridge connecting it to Elba. It’s not on a steep hill, like Nisida, but at least it has some of the characteristics of Rotum3:

Rotum3 isn’t necessarily an island, it might just be a stopping point on a strip map, but if it is an island, there are a few locations that could account for its distinctive shape.

Along the Pathway

Pic of ledges on Voynich Manuscript "map"

There’s another detail on the VMS map that can relate to Tuscany… on the pathway between Rotum2 and Rotum3 are some undulating ledges that look somewhat like dunes, possibly sand dunes.

If you turn them, however, so that the tower and wall are facing up, then they look more like solid escarpments.

They’re too steep and narrow to be vineyards, but they reminded me of something, something I couldn’t put my finger on at first…

Then one morning I woke up and remembered—marble quarries, the mountains of Carrara, pathways and ledges.

Here’s a photo…

Note the textural differences between the paths winding up into the mountains and the escarpments where the marble has been quarried in stepwise fashion.

We don’t know exactly how the quarry looked in the middle ages, but the mountains have been mined for hundreds of years, supplying marble for pillars, walls, mosaics, and classical statues that grace ancient buildings. Now marble is used largely for floor tiles and countertops.

It’s not a perfect match for the VMS drawing, but it does have a similar feeling, so maybe the “dunes” represent some pathway through mountains.


I can’t possibly cover every detail of the map in one blog, this is enough for now. Much of this I’ve mentioned before, but it illustrates that there are many ways to interpret the “map”, more of which I’ll cover in future blogs.

J.K. Petersen

© Copyright 2019 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved

Cheshire Reprised

16 May 2019         

A week ago I posted commentary on Gerard Cheshire’s “proto-Italic ” and “proto-Romance” solution for the VMS. At the time, his most recent paper was pay-to-view, so I had to restrict my comments to the previous open-access paper. Now the most recent version is open-access. Unfortunately, not much has changed from the previous version. You can see his April 2019 proto-Romance theory here.

What exactly do the terms “proto-Romance” and “proto-Italic” mean?


If you search for “proto-Romance”, you will find many references to “vulgar Latin” (also called colloquial Latin)—variations of Latin spoken by the common people (most of whom were illiterate) during the classical period of the Roman Empire.

The “classical period” of the Greeks and Romans spanned approximately 14 centuries up to about 6th century C.E. when the Roman Empire was no longer dominant. As Rome lost its grip, vernacular languages and local versions of Latin had the opportunity to evolve into modern languages such as Italian/Sardinian, Spanish, Portuguese, French (with Gaulish influence), and Romanian.

Extinct Languages and Undocumented Scripts

The prefix “proto-” comes from Greek πρωτο-. This refers to the first, or to something that comes before. So proto-Romance means before the Romance languages had fully emerged (from vulgar Latin), and proto-Italian script means an alphabet that was used before the script that became standard for writing medieval Italian. Medieval Italian script is essentially the same alphabet we use now except that the letterforms are more calligraphic than modern computer users are accustomed to seeing.

This brings us back to Cheshire, who is claiming that Voynichese is an extinct proto-Romance language in an undocumented proto-Italian script… something that existed about 1,000 years before the creation of the VMS.

How is that possible when the radiocarbon-dating and many of the iconographical and palaeological features of the VMS point to the early 15th century?

Cheshire’s Interpretation of Medieval Characters

Cheshire’s descriptions of individual glyphs, and his interpretations of the annotations on folio 116v, suggest that he is not familiar with medieval scripts.

It also seems that he hasn’t studied the frequency or distribution of the Voynich glyphs in the larger body of the main text, because he associates common letters and letter combinations with glyphs that are rare, or that have unusual positional characteristics. This point is so important, it bears repeating… Cheshire assigned substitution values for common letters to rare VMS glyphs, or glyphs that have positional characteristics that are not consistent with Romance languages.

Is it possible he never tested his system to see if it would generalize to larger chunks of text? Did he prematurely assume he had solved it?

Let’s look at some examples…

Cheshire’s Analysis and Transliteration of Voynich Glyphs

In his first example, Cheshire takes a glyph-shape that is known to palaeographers as the Latin “-cis” abbreviation (the letter c plus a loop that usually represents “is” and its homonyms). This shape is both a ligature and an abbreviation in languages that use Latin scribal conventions. It has not yet been determined what it means in the VMS, but its positional characteristics are similar to texts that use the Latin alphabet.

VMS researchers know this shape as EVA-g.

Cheshire transliterates it as a “ta” diphthong. It’s not a diphthong. A diphthong is a combination of two vowel sounds and “t” is clearly not a vowel. The terminology is wrong.

He then gives an explanation of the shape that doesn’t mesh with medieval interpretations of letter shapes. This is figure 26 from his paper (Source: tandfonline):

To say that this can be confused with the letter r and the letter n makes no sense to anyone accustomed to reading medieval manuscripts. It looks nothing like r or n. If Cheshire means it can be confused with his transliterated r or n, he should clarify and provide examples.

To get a sense of how this character was used in the medieval period, I have created a chart with examples of the “-cis” ligature/abbreviation that was common to languages that used Latin scribal conventions. I have sorted them by date.

This is not to imply that the Latin meaning and the VMS meaning are the same. The VMS designer may only have borrowed the shape, but it is important to note that the position of this glyph in the VMS is very similar to how it is positioned in Latin languages:

More important than the mistakes in reading medieval characters and linguistic terminology is that Cheshire did not address the basic statistics of VMS text and the fact that this glyph occurs primarily at the ends of words and sometimes the ends of lines. Thus, transliterating EVA-g as “ta” is highly questionable.

Perhaps Cheshire can justify this mismatch between letter frequency and position by saying that separate glyphs also exist for “t” and “a”, but when you put the various transliterations together, one finds that the character distribution of Romance-language glyphs and Cheshire transliterations are significantly out-of-synch.

For example, as in his previous paper, he chose one of the rarest glyphs in the VMS repertoire (EVA-x) to represent the letter “v”. In classical Latin and Romance languages, the letters “u” and “v” are essentially synonymous and very frequent. In this brief excerpt in modern characters, from Pliny the Younger, note how often u/v occurs:

Pic of letter frequency of U/V in classic Latin text by Pliny the Younger

If Voynichese were a proto-Romance language (some form of classical vulgar Latin), and EVA-x were transliterated to U/V and also F/PH, as per Cheshire’s system, one would expect to see this character more than 40,000 times in 200+ pages. Instead, this character occurs less than 50 times. That alone should create doubt in people’s minds about Cheshire’s “solution”.

So what has Cheshire done? He has assigned a different letter to represent “u”, but we know that in classical Latin, Etruscan, and Old Italic, “v” and “u” did not represent different letters even if both shapes were used (which they usually weren’t).

Even in the Middle Ages, when there were different shapes for “u” and “v”, most scribes used them interchangeably. In other words, “verba” might be written with the “v” shape in one phrase and with a “u” shape (uerba) in the next, just as “s” was written with several different shapes (without indicating any difference in sound).

This is the 23-character Latin alphabet in use around the time vulgar Latin was evolving into Romance languages:

Example of Roman alphabet

Perhaps Cheshire didn’t know that they were interchangeable shapes rather than two different letters when he created his transcription system. But if he did know, if he actually believes that “u” and “v” were distinct letters in proto-Romance languages, he will have to provide evidence, because historians, palaeographers, and linguists are going to be skeptical.

Beginning-Paragraph Glyphs

Voynich scholars have noticed there are disproportionate numbers of EVA-p/r and EVA-t/k characters at the beginnings of paragraphs. There is a possibility that some are pilcrows, or serve some other special function when found in this position.

Cheshire doesn’t appear to have noticed this unusual distribution (at least he doesn’t comment on this important dynamic in his paper) and translates the leading glyph in the same ways as the others. In his system, a very large number of paragraphs inexplicably begin with the letter “P”.

Some of his translations cannot be verified. For example, he used a drawing on f75r to demonstrate a single transliterated word “palina” on f79v. There’s no apparent relationship between them (other than what he contends), so how does an independent party determine if the translation is correct?

Tenuous Assertions

On f70r, he uses a circular argument to explain the transliteration of “opat” (which he says is “abbot”). He says the use of “opat” indicates “that proto-Romance reached as far as eastern Europe” because “opát survives to mean abbot in Polish, Czech and Slovak”.

We don’t need a dubious transliteration to tell us that proto-Romance languages reached eastern Europe. The existence of Romania demonstrates this rather well—it borders the Ukraine, and used to encompass parts of Bohemia. Bohemia included Hungary, Czech, and parts of eastern Germany, so transmission of vulgar Latin to Polish through Czech was a natural process.

Palaeographical Interpretations

There are problems with the way Cheshire describes the text on folio 116v. He refers to the script as “conventional Italics”. It is, in fact, a fairly conventional Gothic script, not “conventional Italics”.

Then he makes a strange statement that the second line on 116v is hybrid writing, that it is Voynichese symbols mixed with “prototype Italic symbols, as if the calligrapher had been experimenting with a crossover writing system”. It’s hard to respond to that because his statement is based on misreading the letters. Here is the text he referenced in his paper:

anchiton mehiton VMS 116v

Cheshire interprets this as “mériton o’pasaban + mapeós”

He misread a normal Gothic h as the letter “r” and a normal Gothic “l” as the letter “P”. In Gothic scripts, the figure-8 character is variously used to represent “s”, “d”, and the number 8, so it’s very familiar to medieval eyes, but he doesn’t seem to know that and interpreted it as a Voynich character that he transliterated to “n”.

If his reading of the letters is wrong, then his transliteration is going to be wrong, as well.

Zodiac Gemini Figures

Cheshire mentions the Gemini zodiac figures (the male/female pair), and states: “Both figures are wearing typical aristocratic attire from the mid 15th century Mediterranean.”

It takes research to determine the location and time period for specific clothing styles—it’s not something people just automatically know. Since Cheshire didn’t credit a source for this reference, I will. It’s possible he got the information from K. Gheuen’s blog.. Even if he didn’t, Gheuen’s blog is worth reading.

Flora and Fauna

I’m not going to deal with Cheshire’s fish identification. It’s just as dubious as the Janick and Tucker alligator gar. There are fish that are more similar to the VMS Pisces than Cheshire’s sea bass, and pointing out the fact that sea bass has “scales” is like pointing out that a bird has wings.

I was hopeful that Cheshire’s latest paper would be an improvement over his previous efforts, but I was disappointed.


It’s possible there is a Romance language buried somewhere in the cryptic VMS text (it was, after all, discovered in Italy, and the binding is probably Italian), but that is not what Cheshire is suggesting. He’s saying it’s an extinct proto-Romance language, without providing a credible explanation of how this information could have been transmitted a thousand years into the future.

There is a relentless publicity campaign going on right now to catapult Cheshire into the limelight. I’m not going to repeat the claims in the news release (they’re pretty outrageous), but even Superman would blush at the accolades being heaped on this unverified theory.

When I checked Cheshire’s doctoral research, I discovered it was in belief systems. Somehow that seems fitting.

J.K. Petersen

© Copyright 2019 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved

Postscript 16 May 2019: The University of Bristol has retracted the Cheshire news release. You can see the retraction here for as long as they decide to make it available.

Cheshire reCAsT

7 May 2019

You may remember an announcement by Gerard Cheshire that he had found a proto-Italic solution for the VMS. There was no corroboration for his theory by any of the scholars who are well-acquainted with the text and, to date, I haven’t seen Cheshire provide an objective verifiable solution.

He has now completed his Ph.D. and is making a bold and possibly proposterous claim that he solved the Voynich Manuscript shortly after discovering it and that his so-called solution “was developed over a 2-week period in May 2017” [ 2019 Apr 29].

Who would claim to solve the VMS and then post a series of papers (Jan. to Apr. 2018) based on a few isolated sections that do not provide a convincing solution? Proposing that it is an extinct language is no more valid than any other VMS theory.

Since I am not willing to pay $43 (or even $4) to download the current version of his paper, I will restrict my remarks to the last of the previous papers, dated April 2018, which I only just read for the first time today (the link to Cheshire’s paper redirects from The Bronx High School of Science student newspaper’s site to

Cheshire’s “Linguistic Dating” Theory

In the introductory section Cheshire states, “…in this regard, manuscript MS408 is ‘manna from heaven’ to the linguistic community, as it offers the components necessary to compile a lexicon of proto-Romance words, thanks to the accompanying visual information.”

He then claims that his “proto-Italic alphabet is shown to be correct, so we know that the spelling of the words is also correct, even if unknown”, and then goes on to say that pages without illustrations “will, of course, be more of a challenge…”

Besides the dubious claim that the “proto-Italic alphabet is shown to be correct…”, I’d like to point out that most VMS folios include illustrations. If you can decipher 200 pages with help from illustrations, then the ones without shouldn’t be too difficult, considering that Voynichese is reasonably consistent from beginning to end.

Cheshire then claims labels are easier to interpret (personally I haven’t seen anyone translate the labels in any verifiable way, but let’s continue):

“The longer sentences are filled with conversational connectives, pronoun variants, singular-plural terms, gender specifics and so on, that make it necessary to identify the unambiguous marker words and then make sense of the equivocal words by a process of sequential logic.”

This stopped me in my tracks. One of the characteristics of the Voynichese that truly stands out is the similarity and repetitiveness of beginnings and endings. How can one identify singulars, plurals and gender specifics in text where the beginnings and ends appear to be stripped of their diversity? I guessed that Cheshire must be either shuffling spaces or breaking up tokens (or both).

The 9-Rotum Foldout as Example

Thumbnail of VMS 9-rotum foldout.

To demonstrate his claim that the VMS uses a proto-Romance language and proto-Italic alphabet, Cheshire presents a partial analysis of the 9-rotum foldout folio, which he refers to as the Tabula regio novem.

He claims the correlations, “…are beyond reasonable doubt in scientific terms. Most of the annotations are translated and transliterated with entire accuracy…”

Another bold claim that doesn’t live up, in my opinion. But let’s look at his analysis…

Cheshire identifies Rotum7 as a volcanic eruption. I think this is possible, based on visual similarity alone, and others have suggested this possibility. However, it could just as easily be an image of mountain springs (the source of water) or a river delta as it spreads out in an alluvial fan or… something else.

So how does Cheshire support his claim?

Rotum7 Translation

Cheshire transliterates the text around the circumference as follows [I’ve added a Voynichese transcript to make it easier for readers to compare them and to see how Cheshire has broken up VMS tokens to create “words”]:

om é naus o’monas o’menas omas o’naus orlaus omr vasaæe or as a ele/elle a inaus o ele e na æina olina omina olinar n os aus omo na moos é ep as or e ele a opénas os as ar vas opas a réina ol ar sa os aquar aisu na

Note that EVA-ot is alternately translated as part of a word or as a separate letter with apostrophe to separate it from the following chunk. The breaking of words in various ways is, of course, subjective interpretation, and would have to be verified by testing the more common divisions on larger chunks of text.

Cheshire translates the above passage as follows:

people and ship in unity take charge mothers/babies of ship to protect life-force pots [he says this is pregnant bellies] yet in he/she at inauspicious/unfavourable he/she is in a/one omen to look it is man not mouse epousee and embrace an opening thus you go but carefully to the queen to facilitate not getting wet with seawater

So before we look into the details of the translation, this supposed narrative seems to me to relate more to river basins and seaports than it does to volcanoes. Cheshire’s contention that this text helps pinpoint the location and time period of the VMS’s creation via a volcanic eruption can definitely be challenged.

But let’s look at the interpretation. Here are some observations:

  • Cheshire has chosen a rare character to represent f/ph, and u/v. Less than 50 instances of one of the most common letters in Latin and Italian in c. 38,000 words of text is hard to believe. In classical Latin versions of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the u/v character would occur about 15,000 times in 38,000 words (that’s not even including the f).
  • There’s no word “inaus” in Latin, Italian, French, or Spanish (in fact, it’s more Germanic than Romance), so Cheshire has expanded it to mean inauspicious via Latin inauspicatus. Presumably he feels it’s acceptable to subjectively choose which tokens might be truncated.
  • Obviously Cheshire is using variations of “om” to mean homo/people, thus om (people) omas (mothers/babies), omo (man), but he chose to interpret “omenas” as o’menas (take charge) rather than as om enas (people swim). People swimming is arguably more consistent with the surrounding subject matter. This illustrates that his interpretation has a strong element of choice. I’m not even sure why o’menas would mean “take charge”.
  • Some of the translation seems rather nonsensical and hard to relate to volcanoes, such as “to look it is man not mouse and marry and embrace an opening thus you go carefully to the queen to avoid not getting wet with seawater”. Consider that “aisu” is neither Italian nor Latin and the grammar is seriously questionable.
  • I’m not sure why Cheshire seguéd to Persian for “moos” (mouse). Moos is an acceptable alternate spelling for “mus” in western languages. Perhaps it was to justify his choice of Persian to explain another word “omr” which has no equivalents in Romance languages. Going to non-Romance languages when a word doesn’t fit his theoretical framework introduces yet another level of subjective interpretation.
  • The choice of phrase-breaks is clearly also subjective. Cheshire separated “opénas” from “os” even though they go together better than combining “os” with the following phrase. The word “opénas” itself is questionable—it’s not likely to be expressed this way and it could be interpreted quite differently as a penalty, punishment, or even as sympathy.

Overall, there is only a vague coherence to it, one that does not evoke thoughts of volcanoes, and one that makes little grammatical sense.

In his summation of the text, Cheshire does not explain why text unrelated to volcanoes would confirm that the Rotum7 IS a volcano and avoids any explanation of why marriage and the queen would be included.

Confirmation Bias?

In the next section Cheshire identifies the symbol bottom-left as a compass (I personally think it looks more like a sextant, which was used for surveying as well as navigation, but I’m not sure what it represents). His transliteration is “op a æequ ena tas o’naus os o n as aus[pex]”, which he translates to “necessary to equal water balance of ship as it is propitious”.

A compass doesn’t really have anything to do with a ship’s water balance (and doesn’t relate to volcanoes either) and I would like to know why he says “op” means “necessary” when the root “neces-” is common to all major Romance languages. In Romance languages “op” is more likely to equate to “work/produce” than to “necessary”, and once again the grammar is abnormal.

From these two pieces of “translation”, Cheshire takes a logical leap that only two volcanoes might be plausible for Rotum7: Stromboli and Vulcano and states:

“…Vulcano is known to have erupted very violently in the year 1444, which corresponds with the carbon-dating of the manuscript velum: 1404-1438.”

He further translates the Rotum7 inner annotations as “of rock, both directions, not so hot, veers here, it twists, reducing, it slows, middling/forming, of rock it is”.

This could describe mountain springs (the source of water) just as easily as a volcanic eruption. I’m not denying that Rotum7 might be volcanic flow, it’s on my list of possibilities, only that Cheshire’s argument is not as definitive or scientific as he claims. Also, I would like an explanation of how he turned “oqunas asa” into “both directions”.

Origins of Glyph Shapes

Cheshire has this to say about VMS glyph shapes:

“…the symbol is an inverted v with a bar above. It seems to derive from the Greek letter Pi in lowercase (π),…”

I disagree. Pi was rarely written like EVA-x in medieval manuscripts. However, alpha and lambda are sometimes written this way, including Greek, Coptic, and old Russian scripts (I have collected many samples). I think it’s unlikely that EVA-x is based on the shape of Pi.

Rotum7 Side Labels

I can’t go through every translation point-by-point, but if you are reading along, on page 7 of his paper, you’ll notice Cheshire inserted the word “lava” many times when it wasn’t part of the translation. I don’t know if he was trying to convince us or himself.

Note that in two places, he translated “omon” (EVA-otod) as lava. Now take a look at this:

Cheshire translates EVA-otodey as omon ena and EVA-otody as omon ea. In his system, this translates to “lava largest” and “lava smaller”. If this system were applied consistently throughout the manuscript then we are looking at root-suffix constructions, with EVA-ey as largest and EVA-edy as smaller. This has significant implications for interpretation of the rest of the text but Cheshire didn’t address this.

If you’ve been paying attention to the translations, you might have noticed certain inconsistencies. Cheshire presents omo as people/humans and omon as lava, and now omona as “big man” (it’s not hard to follow the logic) but does not explain why these words would occur in other places in the manuscript where the context does not seem relevant. He also inserts increasing levels of subjective interpretation to explain the “story” behind the rosettes folio and asserts that Rotum8 depicts emergency refuge from the eruption and Rotum 9 is emergency relief in the form of free bread on tables.


As for the letters “o” that occur so frequently at the beginnings of words, Cheshire variously interprets them as conjunctions and articles. I’m not going to argue with this because I think it’s possible the over-abundant leading-“o” glyphs could have a special function as markers or grammatical entitites, but even with this flexibility, Cheshire’s grammar falls apart upon inspection. Even notes and labels usually exhibit certain patterns of consistency, that are not readily apparent in the translation.

I’m also not going to argue with the choice of location for these volcanoes (if they are volcanoes), because I’ve considered the Naples area many times, have blogged about it, and it’s still on my list of favored locations.

But I have trouble accepting the translation in its current form because

  • there are a lot of nonsensical word combinations,
  • there’s almost no grammar,
  • the letter distribution is quite different from Romance languages (it would take a whole blog to discuss this aspect of the text, but take 4 as an example, which almost exclusively is at the beginnings of tokens—Cheshire relates it to “d”, and “9” which is usually at the end and sometimes at the beginning, but almost never in the middle, which he designates as “a”),
  • the words still match the drawings if the drawings are interpreted differently (which means the relationship isn’t proven yet),
  • some of the transliterated “words” don’t show any relationship to Romance word-structures (and the author neglected to explain how specific non-Romance words were derived), and
  • the same words (e.g., “na”) are sometimes interpreted differently.

If Rotum7 turns out to be flows of water, rather than flows of lava, Cheshire’s arguments about time period and location are seriously weakened. Even if it turns out to be lava, the problems with the translation have to be addressed, because it seems more relevant to water than it does to lava.

Consider also that Cheshire’s word “naus” (EVA-daiin) is translated as nautical vessels, but the author doesn’t explain why this exceedingly common Voynich chunk, that is usually at the ends of tokens, would occur in almost every line, and sometimes more than once per line, throughout the manuscript.

Cheshire hasn’t given a satisfactory explanation of why a mid-15th-century scribe would use an undocumented proto-Italian script from c. 700 C.E. or earlier.

And let’s be honest, the translations are semantically peculiar. The human mind is designed to construct meaning from small clues, to fill in the gaps, so it’s easy to read meaning into almost any collection of semi-related words, but it’s very difficult to confirm anything that doesn’t quite hold together in normal ways.

J.K. Petersen

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