Posted on 27 March 2014 by Anton Alipov

Category: Art

The Bulbous Object Identified: A Short Note Upon Voynich f116v

In voynichology, special effort is put into research of folio 116 verso (f116v) of the Voynich Manuscript (VM). This is because f116v contains a comparatively large number of non-Voynichese words which are considered to be of natural languages, presumably Latin and/or German. This is not common for VM in general, where non-Voynichese words are extremely rare.

When discussing f116v, the main focus is usually made on the infamous "michiton oladabas" and all that, which comprises its second paragraph. The very folio itself is often referred to as "Michitonese", after this alleged "michiton".

Along with the Michitonese stuff, f116v contains also a drawing, which is formally described by Dr. Jorge Stolfi thus:

"In the dark region between the hole and the left edge, roughly aligned with text line #2, there is the drawing of a four-legged animal, resembling a dog with round ears, short hais, and a fat but pointed tail. The animal is facing left, with the snout right against the vellum's edge.

Below the animal is a female nymph (with breasts), naked except for some simple hat. She is facing seems to be seated on a sloping surface, right at the edge of the dark area, with arms stretched sideways and down.

Above the anumal there is a drawing of an unidentified bulbous object".

The "unidentified bulbous object" has been considered to be even as much as Tycho Brahe's nose.

However, the "nose hypothesis" does not need to be invoked, because the drawing contains this object's annotation. It is widely overlooked that the drawing (being as described) contains also a non-Voynichese word (see Fig.1 below).

Fig. 1. The drawing in f116v


The word itself (see Fig.2) is not difficult to recognize.

Fig. 2. The word describing the "bulbous object"


It reads "lab", which is German (albeit Middle High) "Lab", namely abomasum, or rennet-bag. To see what it looks like, photos and sketches of abomasum are readily available in the Internet.

Who was he who added this annotation - was it some later reader or the very author of VM anxious that his readers may experience difficulties in identifying the bulbous object as abomasum - this is a question for further research. I would only note that the shapes of "l", "a" and "b" are the same as in the text area of f116v.

It is also worth noting that the four-legged animal cannot be a dog, because abomasum is peculiar for ruminants, and, besides, dogs with hooves are yet unknown to science. Anyway, VM's drawings are far from perfection, so annotations here and there are quite helpful, thanks the unknown scholar.

The whole case with abomasum is so clear that it is strange how this could have been overlooked by so many researchers. Having decided to write this note, I googled for this and found only two references. One is in the thorough "Writings on the Wall: A Discussion of the Voynich Manuscript Marginalia" by Vogt and Schwerdtfeger, which runs thus:

"Between the »phial« and the »lamb«, there are what appear to be three letters of marginalia. It’s pretty impossible to read them (»lab« or »las«?), but the fact that they show the »delta« ascender (which are so suspiciously absent among the Voynichese characters) seems to connect the latin marginalia again with the original production of the Voynich, rendering a later date for the marginalia unlikely."

This is an amazing statement, because the word is very easy to read, especially given that the letters are exactly of the same shape as in the text area of f116v. My knowledge of German being close to nil, initially I thought that "lab" means something like "lamb", but (thanks it turned to be abomasum - a specific "phial" of Mother Nature, yes.

The other reference that I found is a five years earlier one, by Gregor Damschen in the VMS mailing list. His suggestion is true, but somewhat hesitant:

"There is some strange thing, a vessel, a jar, a potifer? (from line f.116v.0?), a syringe (as someone guessed some time ago), a libra? I do not know what it is (by the way the three letters on its left bottom look like German "lab" - rennet?), but it looks like a thing on page 76v."

This is lost among many lines of discussion of Michitonese, and apparently Dr. Damschen did not consider this point to be of much importance.


Perhaps a reasonable step for the community of voynichologists would be to narrow the scope and stop looking for the VM's roots in America, China, Caucasus and Nigeria. I think that middlehighgermanists (pardon me this) are the right people to pay some attention to VM. Of course, this is just an opinion of an amateur - I am by no means a specialist in VM, and took my first look at it only a week ago. I am just glad to have identified the bulbous object. So rim gâs mich, if you know what I mean.


View/add comments

  1. Thomas · 6 July 2015, 03:57 · URL

    You’re an amateur, and you have identified the bulbous object within a week into your VMS studies. And the community of voynichologists are speechless for over a year now. :-)

    Just as I was trying to see images of fifteenth century door keys because I was fooled into believing the object may be such a key, now I learn it is a rennet bag.

    All my respect because of this finding of yours, Anton. And the word “lab”.

    This reminds me of the epic failure to identify a valuable Poussin painting. It was long known that there existed a lost work of his, called The Destruction And Sack Of The Temple Of Jerusalem. Then, when a painting turned up for sale, experts of a grand auction house decided it was an other, less valuable lost work by someone else, called the Sack of Carthage. The painting was sold for relative peanuts. The buyer knew what it was. It was the lost Poussin. And guess what was blindingly obvious on the painting. In the centre of it, amongst the crowd, a bloke was carrying a huge gold menora! No expert spotted the menora? Or, if spotted, must have thought: Yeah, menora… Wait… It must be Carthage!

    You have well spotted the “lab” and well made the connection.

  2. Anton Alipov · 8 July 2015, 00:18 · URL

    Hi Thomas,

    Thanks for your comment. In fact, I discussed this note with some researchers – privately as well as publicly (e.g. in Nick Pelling’s blog). It was generally accepted to be an interesting finding, although not all consider this “lab” reference to be as certain as I do. E.g., Nick does not.

    Amateurs can make input into the VMS research, because special knowledge is only one portion of the required skills, the other is acuteness and cool scientific reasoning. The latter is most important, because with the VMS it is easy (both for a professional and an amateur) to become obsessed with some biased “big theory”.

    VMS research is about building the puzzle from many different tiny pieces. Most amateurs (and quite a number of professionals) instead try to magnify a certain tiny piece to the dimensions of the whole puzzle. That’s where they inevitably begin to go astray.

    As for Poussin, his name is indirectly connected with another famous cryptographic enigma – the “Shugborough monument”. Interesting and romantic matter, that.

  3. D.N.O'Donovan · 24 August 2016, 11:05 · URL

    Hi Anton,

    What bothers me about efforts to interpret the marginalia is that there’s no enquiry – just assertions made.

    For example, I would have thought that if the glyphs were interpreted as “l.a.b”

    the first stage would be to find how many languages have that string “lab” and what the word means in each of them.

    It may read “l.a.b” but why then leap to the idea that it’s the German “lab” in particular?

    Also, a while ago I published clips (from a fifteenth-century copy of an a 13thC manuscript) an example of what looks to me very like the “michiton”.

    No-one offered to tell me what the word meant, and medieval Latin palaeography needs an expert to say, I think.

    I also compared some other Voynich forms by comparison with others in the same manuscript(Gonville and Caius College MS 35/141).

    Clips from the VMS are bordered in red.

  4. Anton Alipov · 25 August 2016, 02:47 · URL

    Hi Diane,

    Actually here we have certain support from the imagery side; it’s not like with “mallior allor” or with “oladabas”. So it’s just nice for “lab” as abomasum to fit the depiction of an object that looks like abomasum.

    You are right that “lab” per se does not tell us much about its own language, but the trail of thought has led me from “pox leber” and “so nim/rim gas mich” (or “gasmich”) which looked strikingly German to me as a then newcomer (but also to many others, as I discovered in the course of examination of what had been said about f116v). So the next step was to check if lab stands for anything meaningful in MHD – and it turned out that it does! Next step was to check if the stuff labeled as “lab” looks like abomasum – and it turned out that it does.

    So it was not a leap from “lab” to “German”, but rather a leap from “German” to “lab”, then back to German, then from language to the supporting imagery.

    I think that our understanding of f116v will be greatly improved if experts in paleography and in middle high german language join the effort, and perhaps some interpretations would need to be rejected. But sadly the experts don’t seem to be in a hurry to join.

    About “michiton” – in the image that you quote I’d say it’s not a “t”, but an “l”. Note that the “t”‘s in the adjacent words are quite of a different shape, and the letter in question does not have a cross bar. What this word is exactly, I fail to say, but it definitely can’t be a “michiTon”.

    After Yulia M. threw in a link to a book with a reference to “anchiton”, we had a very productive discussion, and traced this “anchiton” down; so currently we have a solid interpretation for “anchiton” (that was in the thread about f116v at Voynich.Ninja)

  5. Greg Clouter · 15 November 2016, 12:16 · URL

    I am an amateur enthusiast as far as the Voynich mss is concerned. I am an archaeologist theorist and author in a different field (analysis of the Gundestrup Bowl narrative). Suffice to say, from my own research I have come to the following conclusions: (I) The text in f116v is the work of the author of the cypher and represents the key the text. (ii) The main languages which comprise so called michitonese text include medieval latin and Aragonese; (iii) That the key describes a mathematical formula for deciphering the text using roman numerals and converting them to arabic numerals. This is as much as I can disclose at present as I am still working on the theory in an early stage. But this means that we need to reconsider the transcription of the voynich characters in terms of Arabic numerals rather than alphabetic characters and mathematical expressions rather than words.

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