The University of Bristol has released a statement distancing itself from a piece of research claiming an academic cracked the mysterious Voynich manuscript.
Questions raised by rival academics questioned the validity of the research, despite it being peer-reviewed and published in the respected journal Romance.
Dr Gerard Cheshire claimed it was written in a dead language – proto-Romance – and by studying symbols and their descriptions he deciphered the meaning some of the letters and words – a process that according the the original release, took just two weeks.
Claims from Cheshire’s critics said that proto-Romance language is ‘not a thing’ and even go as far as calling his theory ‘aspirational, circular, self-fulfilling nonsense’.
The beleaguered academic has defended his work saying that protocol was followed ‘to the letter’ and accused the experts of being unable to let go of ‘preconceptions even when presented with new evidence’.
Today, the university released a statement saying concerns had been raised ‘about the validity of this research from academics in the fields of linguistics and medieval studies’.
The statement from the university read: ‘Following media coverage, concerns have been raised about the validity of this research from academics in the fields of linguistics and medieval studies.
‘We take such concerns very seriously and have therefore removed the story regarding this research from our website to seek further validation and allow further discussions both internally and with the journal concerned.’
The research was part of a double-blind study and published in Romance Studies but received a significant backlash following widespread media coverage.
‘Sorry, folks, ‘proto-Romance language’ is not a thing. This is just more aspirational, circular, self-fulfilling nonsense,’ Lisa Fagin David, executive director of the Medieval Academy of America, tweeted.
‘I tried several years ago to reproduce Cheshire’s Voynich results, because initially I was intrigued. But when you apply his Roman-letter substitutions and then try to translate the result, you have no choice but to be subjective. It’s gibberish. The methodology falls apart,’ she added in a later tweet.
Dr Cheshire told MailOnline: ‘The paper has been blind peer-reviewed, verified and published in a highly reputable journal, which is the gold standard for scientific corroboration, so it is officially supported and protocol has been followed to the letter.
‘The manuscript is an unusual case though, due to the mythology that surrounds it, which means that some people find it difficult to let go of preconceptions even when presented with new evidence, such is their passion.
‘In time, other scholars will publish their own papers based on translation of the manuscript using the solution, so the small tide of resistance is bound to wane.’
Experts previously claimed that the Voynich manuscript – known as one of the ‘world’s most mysterious texts’ – contained codes, magic spells, alien messages and even communist propaganda.
It was thought to have been written in accordance with the Catholic and Roman pagan religious beliefs of the time and has been carbon-dated to around the mid-15th century.
Dr Cheshire wrote in the study that it was compiled by Dominican nuns as a source of reference for Maria of Castile, Queen of Aragon, who is the great aunt to Catherine of Aragon.
There are also images of Queen Maria (1401–58) and her court conducting trade negotiations whilst bathing as well as many other images of naked women bathing, he wrote.
Also within the manuscript is a foldout illustrative map that Dr Cheshire used to date and locate the origin of the manuscript.
He said that the map tells the story of a rescue mission, led by the Queen of Aragon, to save the victims of a volcanic eruption in the Tyrrhenian Sea in 1444 off the western coast of Italy.
In an email to MailOnline, he wrote that his work was ‘largely intuitive’:
He said: ‘I could just see that it was possible. My unrelated academic work involves a lot of thought experiment and lateral thinking, so I employed a similar technique.
‘The most important thing is to think creatively and play with ideas, but always go for the most likely possibilities. That is known as Occam’s razor, in scientific circles.
‘Thus, the language proto-Romance was deduced to be the most likely for the time and place, even though there were no other known examples.’
The Voynich manuscript, named after Wilfrid M Voynich, a Polish book dealer who bought the manuscript in 1912, was written in Central Europe in around the 15th century, according to academics.
Its date, origin and language have been debated as vigorously as its puzzling drawings and undeciphered text featuring botanical and scientific drawings.
Among those who have famously attempted to crack the code are Alan Turing and his colleagues at Bletchley Park and the FBI during the Cold War.
Proto- Romance was claimed to be ancestral to today’s ‘Romance’ languages including Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, Catalan and Galician.
Some of the symbols were unfamiliar to scholars studying the text because they have different geographical origins or because they have different variants which indicate particular phonetic accents.
The language was ubiquitous in the Mediterranean during the Medieval period, but it was seldom written in official or important documents because Latin was the language of royalty, church and government.
‘I experienced a series of ‘eureka’ moments whilst deciphering the code, said Dr Cheshire.
This, he said, was followed by a sense of ‘disbelief and excitement’ when he realised the magnitude of the achievement, both in terms of its linguistic importance and the revelations about the origin and content of the manuscript.
‘What it reveals is even more amazing than the myths and fantasies it has generated.
‘It is also no exaggeration to say this work represents one of the most important developments to date in Romance linguistics.
‘The manuscript is written in proto-Romance – ancestral to today’s Romance languages including Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, Catalan and Galician.
‘The language used was ubiquitous in the Mediterranean during the Medieval period, but it was seldom written in official or important documents because Latin was the language of royalty, church and government.
‘As a result, proto-Romance was lost from the record, until now.’
The next step is to use this knowledge to translate the entire manuscript and compile a lexicon, which Dr Cheshire acknowledged will take some time and funding, as it comprises more than 200 pages.
‘Now the language and writing system have been explained, the pages of the manuscript have been laid open for scholars to explore and reveal, for the first time, its true linguistic and informative content,’ he added.