7. Practise

a. Describe what you’re seeing in the photos.

These are two pages from the Voynich Manuscript, a mysterious handwritten book containing strange illustrations and texts in an unknown alphabet. The manuscript is named after Wilfrid Voynich, an eccentric Polish bookseller who acquired it from a college in Italy in 1912. It made its way to Yale University in 1969, where it has been studied by linguists, historians and other researchers intent on solving its mysteries.

b. Here are some theories about the Voynich Manuscript. Can you put them into passive voice?

(i) In the 1600s, Rafael Mnishovsky proposed that the author was the 13th-century English scholar and inventor Roger Bacon.

(ii) Some people have speculated that Mnishovsky himself may have been the author, as he was interested in puzzles and alphabets, and claimed in 1619 to have invented an uncrackable code.

(iii) Others have also linked the book to the Italian engineer Giovanni Fontana, who filled his books with fantastical illustrations and often wrote in codes.

(iv) As to the purpose of the book, researchers have put forward claims that it was a treatise on magic, astrology or herbal medicine.

(v) Meanwhile, some modern researchers believe that the writing in the manuscript is meaningless, and that the book was written as an elaborate joke, or hoax.

(vi) For many years, there were rumours that Voynich could have written the book as a fraud, using his knowledge of mediaeval literature.

(vii) However, staff at the University of Arizona proved in 2009, using carbon dating, that the manuscript dates back to the early 15th century.

For more on the Voynich Manuscript, try these links:



For answers to this part, click here.

8. Discuss

  • Do you have any theories about what the Voynich Manuscript might be?
  • How likely are you to consider a supernatural explanation for unexplained phenomena such as this?
  • How likely is it that humans have made contact with aliens at some point? Or are you sceptical about the existence of aliens?
  • Moving on from manuscripts and monoliths, which urban myths exist in your country?
  • What conspiracy theories do you know of?
  • Why are conspiracy theories gaining followers in today’s world? Do any of these theories contain a grain of truth?


supernatural: (adjective) living beings that don’t follow the laws of science, e.g. angels, ghosts, fairies.

sceptical: (adjective) not believing in something. A sceptic is a person who doesn’t believe in anything that breaks the laws of science as they currently exist.

urban myth: (noun) an untrue phenomenon which is widely rumoured to be true. Also called an urban legend. Often these are localised to a particular city e.g. a building is said to be haunted by a ghost of a previous inhabitant.

conspiracy theory: (noun) an alternative explanation of historical and political events, often involving the idea that governments and powerful figures are plotting together to destroy society (e.g. the Illuminati) or to mislead the public (e.g. 9/11 conspiracy theories).

Now click on ‘Page 4’ of this lesson, down below.

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