Detail of the left column of an inscription found in a Russian cathedral that names men who murdered a prince.
Oct. 31, 2011 --
Known as the Copiale Cipher, the mysterious text seen here was the work of a secretive 18th-century society. Discovered in East Germany and first examined in the 1970s, the 75,000-character cipher details the operations and rituals of this 300-year-old group. The cipher was cracked by a team of U.S. and Swedish researchers led by University of Southern California computer scientist Kevin Knight. Interestingly enough, the code revealed the political leanings of the organization and its curious fascination with eye surgery. Although a combination of human ingenuity and computing power solved this centuries-old text, there are still other codes, both modern and ancient, whose meanings have eluded even the most skilled cryptographers. Explore other texts whose meanings are still hidden to history.
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Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale
The Voynich manuscript, a 15th-century parchment containing both a coded script and mysterious drawings, was discovered in 1912 in the Villa Mondragone near Rome. Even since its discovery, it has confounded cryptographers. Only this year did researchers even determine how old the text is. Even the true author of the text is something of a mystery. Theories range from a 13th-century friar named Roger Bacon to a religious sect hiding their customs and rituals in the pages of the manuscript. Although the book contains nearly a quarter of a million characters, they are of such variety as to further complicate deciphering the text. Some resemble Latin letters and Roman numerals, while others are completely unique. The drawings only serve to further confuse anyone looking to see through to the meaning of the text.
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Discovered in 1908 in Crete, the Phaistos Disk is a Bronze-Age relic containing a script that dates back about 4,000 years. Measuring around 16 centimeters (6.3 inches) in diameter and containing some 45 symbols repeated throughout the artifact, the pottery disk contains a mix of figures resembling humans, plants, weapons and animals. Since its discovery, the authenticity of the Phaistos Disk has been questioned by some archaeologists who argue it's a forgery. But most scholars accept it as a genuine product of its time.
J. M. Kenoyer / harappa.com via ScienceDaily.
Thousands of artifacts bearing Indus Script, a more than 4,000-year-old writing form tied to the prehistoric Indus Valley Civilization, have been discovered over the past century. However, the meaning of these ancient hieroglyphics has remained a mystery to anyone looking to decipher them. Although a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences identified patterns in the symbols taken from different artifacts bearing this text, the language remains a mystery. In fact, some archaeologists have questioned whether the script represents a language at all, or "merely pictograms of political or religious icons," as reported in a related release from Science Daily. With the discovery of sequences and patterns in the script, however, those looking to decode these ancient texts are more confident that the codes reflect an underlying logic of a verbal system.
Discovered on Easter Island in the 19th century, Rongorongo is a text found only on fragments of wooden objects. It consists of glyphs resembling human, animal and plant figures as well as abstract, geometric symbols. Dating the text has proven tricky, since researchers can only radiocarbon-date the wood, not necessarily the text itself. Evidence suggests, however, that the text couldn't date much further back than around 700 years ago.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the San Francisco area was terrorized by a serial killer who called himself "The Zodiac." He sent many letters to the San Francisco Chronicle documenting his crimes over the years. The letters the Zodiac killer sent also included a code in the form a cipher, only one of which has ever been deciphered. However, rather than providing any insight into the identity of the killer, the solution to the cryptogram is instead a vulgar statement about what motivates the killer.
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Central Intelligence Agency
You'd think it would take a world-class cryptographer to create the four hidden messages embedded in Kryptos, a sculpture that resides on the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency. Generations of codebreakers haven't been able to crack the full message concealed within this artwork. In fact, the message is the creation of artist Jim Sanborn, who is allegedly the only one who knows the final solution. The sculpture is made up of four sections, three of which have been solved. (To view the original text of the puzzle, click here.) The fourth section of the piece has confounded both professional and amateur cryptographers. Since the sculpture's dedication, Sanborn has released a few clues about the pieces, including that the first three sections contain the keys to solving the fourth.
A long list with names of Medieval killers has been uncovered by restorers working in a Russian church, shedding new light on the murder of Andrey Bogolyubsky, one of the most powerful princes of the time.
Found on the east wall of the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Savior in Pereslavl-Zalessky, some 60 miles from Moscow, the inscription names 20 conspirators and briefly describes what happened on the night of June 29, 1174, when Prince Bogolyubsky was stabbed to death in his bedchamber.
“We suppose the inscription was some sort of official announcement about the murder of Prince Andrey and the condemnation of the murderers,” Alexey Gippius, professor at the National Research University Higher School of Economics and correspondent member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Discovery News.
“The number of the names confirms information given by the chronicles, where however only three names are mentioned,” he added.
Andrey I Yuryevich, commonly known as Andrey Bogolyubsky (“Andrew the God-Loving”), was a grandson of Vladimir Monomakh, the Grand Prince of Kiev from 1113 to 1125.
As the prince of Rostov-Suzdal and grand prince of Vladimir, he strengthened the importance of the northeastern Russian lands which he tried to unite under his authority.
He moved the political hub from Kiev to the city-state of Vladimir, making it a powerful center of religious and civil life. Seeing their power strongly reduced, the boyars, or upper nobility, plotted against the autocratic prince.
Twenty conspirators burst into Andrey’s chamber and killed him.
“The murder of the prince is one of the most dramatic and mysterious events of the second half of the 12th century,” Nikolai Makarov, director of the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said in a statement.
He noted the assassination was a consequence of conflicts among the political elite of the Vladimir-Suzdal land, turned by Andrey into one of the dominant political centers of Russia.
“However, the details of these conflicts, which are often interpreted as a clash of princely power and nobility, are unknown to us,” Makarov said.
Located in the middle of the southern apse of the cathedral, the inscription consists of two columns and is crowned by a cross.
The right column reads: “On the month of June 29 Prince Andrey had been killed by his servants. Memory eternal to him and eternal torture to them [lost text].”
The left column contains a list of Bogolyubsky’s killers, which include the already known names of “Petr Fralovich, Ambal, Yakim” and other so far unknown murderers including “Ivka, Petrko, Styryata.”
“These are murderers of Great Prince Andrey. Let them be cursed [lost text],” the inscription concludes.
The researchers can’t tell when exactly after the murder of Andrey Bogolyubsky the inscription was made.
The text could have been sent by the Vladimir authorities to all the main cities of the northeastern Russian lands in order to be inscribed on the walls of churches.
“Now graffiti is regarded as something undesirable and destructive, but in Middle Age graffiti on the walls of houses and churches could act as an important channel of communication between officials and the people,” Gippius said.