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Mysteries

American Botanical Council Publishes Revolutionary Analysis Unlocking Mysteries of 500-Year-Old Manuscript

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Authors Propose Unique New World Origins of Obscure Voynich Manuscript in HerbalGram

In the 100th issue of its quarterly, peer-reviewed journal, HerbalGram, the nonprofit American Botanical Council published a feature that may change the course of research on an approximately 500-year-old, illuminated text known as the Voynich Manuscript. Written in a curious language that is yet un-deciphered, the enigma of the Voynich has puzzled scholars and mystery enthusiasts since its 1912 discovery by Polish book collector Wilfrid M. Voynich.

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This manuscript, now housed at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, has elicited enormous interest, resulting in numerous books and Internet sites with no conclusive resolution on the manuscript’s origin. Even the US National Security Agency has taken an interest in its cryptic contents, and doctoral theses have been written on attempts to decipher the language of the Voynich Manuscript.

HerbalGram‘s feature article by Arthur O. Tucker, PhD, and Rexford H. Talbert, titled “A Preliminary Analysis of the Botany, Zoology, and Mineralogy of the Voynich Manuscript,” is based on a unique, investigative approach to understanding the strange manuscript. Past researchers have attempted to prove that the manuscript was a product of Europe, mainly because it was discovered in Italy, but also because they believed a European language to be hidden in the writing system of the text. Other theorists proposed Asian origins based on the premise that cloaked Chinese characters existed within syllabary of the Voynich Manuscript. As with many of humankind’s most enduring mysteries, aliens have been implicated as well.

Dr. Tucker — botanist, emeritus professor, and co-director of the Claude E. Phillips Herbariumat Delaware State University — and Mr. Talbert, a retired information technologist formerly employed by the US Department of Defense and NASA, decided to look first at the botanical illustrations in the Voynich Manuscript and compare them to the world’s geographic plant distribution at the time of the manuscript’s first recorded appearance (ca. 1576-1612). The similarities between a plant illustrated in the Voynich Manuscript and the soap plant depicted in the 1552 Codex Cruz-Badianus of Mexico — considered the first medical text written in the New World — propelled the authors down a path leading to the identification of 37 plants, 6 animals, and 1 mineral in the manuscript from the Americas — specifically, from post-Conquest Nueva España (New Spain) and the surrounding regions.

In identifying the plants, animals, and minerals, the authors of the HerbalGram article found more compelling evidence to support their theory. They write, “A search of the surviving codices and manuscripts from Nueva España in the 16th century reveals the calligraphy of the Voynich Ms. to be similar to the Codex Osuna (1563-1566, Mexico City). Loan-words for the plant and animal names have been identified from Classical Nahuatl, Spanish, Taino, and Mixtec” — references to some of the native languages of Mexico prior to the Spanish Conquest. The majority of the text, the authors propose, is an extinct dialect, keeping much of the Voynich Manuscript’s secrets intact…for now.

“Although the Voynich is clearly not the most pressing issue in modern herbal medicine and phytotherapy, we believed we could not pass up the opportunity to publish Art Tucker and Rex Talbert’s insightful essay in which they propose a New World origin for the source and identity of the plants in the Voynich — possibly providing a breakthrough in this historical conundrum,” wrote Mark Blumenthal, HerbalGram editor-in-chief and ABC founder and executive director, in his Dear Reader editorial column in the same issue of HerbalGram.

“Long thought a mystery, written in an untranslatable…cipher,” he continued, “the Voynich has been the subject of almost countless essays and investigations, none of which has been able to ‘crack the code.'”

The article has garnered positive responses from several experts in the fields of botany and ethnobotany.

Wendy Applequist, PhD, the associate curator of the Missouri Botanical Garden’s William L. Brown Center, said “Numerous failed attempts to crack the code of the Voynich Manuscript have focused on linguistics and cryptography. Tucker and Talbert have focused on its botany and, surprisingly but plausibly, identified many of the plants depicted as New World taxa.

“At minimum,” Dr. Applequist continued, “this offers new leads for decipherment efforts; ultimately, if text relating to Central American ethnobotany can be retrieved from the manuscript, its historical significance will be extraordinary.”

“Dr. Arthur Tucker has made a breakthrough in the interpretation of the Voynich Manuscript,” stated Jules Janick, PhD, James Troop Distinguished Professor in Horticulture at Purdue University. “He has demonstrated to my satisfaction that it contains images based on Mexican flora and fauna. Clearly horticultural information has provided a smoking gun. The education of the Aztec elite by various Spanish priests in ‘colleges’ in the 16th century provides a plausible narrative for the creation of this manuscript.

“While names of various plants have been identified in Nahuatl, the main text still remains to be deciphered, but I am optimistic,” added Dr. Janick.

As ethnobotanist, author, and Amazon Conservation Team Executive Director Mark Plotkin, PhD, noted, “Tucker and Talbert have produced an analysis both intriguing and insightful which solves one of the ultimate ethnobotanical cold cases!”

About the American Botanical Council
Founded in 1988, the American Botanical Council is a leading international nonprofit organization that addresses research and educational issues regarding botanicals, teas, medicinal plants, essential oils, and other beneficial plant-derived materials. ABC’s members include individuals, companies, and organizations in the herb, dietary supplement, and cosmetic industries; journalists; consumers; and others in more than 80 countries. The organization occupies a historic 2.5-acre site in Austin, Texas, where it publishes the peer-reviewed quarterly journal HerbalGram, the monthly e-publication HerbalEGram, the weekly e-newsletter Herbal News & Events, HerbClips (summaries of scientific and clinical publications), reference books, and other educational materials. ABC also hosts HerbMedPro, a powerful herbal database, covering scientific and clinical publications on more than 250 herbs. ABC also co-produces the “Herbal Insights” segment for Healing Quest, a television series on PBS.

SOURCE American Botanical Council

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Mysteries

Murder Mysterious: What Happened at the Hinterkaife Farm?

This story, which took place on April 4, 1922, on the Hinterkaifike farm, located between Ingolstadt and Schrobenhausen in Bavaria, still excites the minds of lawyers and journalists. Then they found the bodies of the owner of the farm and his wife, their daughter and her two children, a maid who had recently come to them to work …

Everyone in the village knew about the Gruber. They were a wealthy family, but with a bad reputation. The father of the family, Andreas Gruber, was a cruel and rude man, so the workers on the farm did not stay long. Although everyone wanted money, few were willing to endure Andreas’ harsh temper. Cecilia Gruber, his wife, used to be the owner of Hinterkaifeke – she inherited the farm from her husband. From him, she left two children, Martin and Cecilia. Soon the couple had a daughter, Victoria. She was not the only child, but the only one survived to adulthood – the rest of the children died in the absence of proper care. 

Victoria grew up with Cecilia the younger as a sister. She was a quiet girl who sang in the church choir. Andreas did not deny himself the pleasure of making fun of both girls, and when Victoria turned 16, he forced her to enter into a relationship with him. Nobody knew about this, because the family lived as hermits, and the locals preferred not to pry into other people’s affairs. 

Cecilia the younger got married and left. At the age of 27, Victoria also found herself a husband, Karl Gabriel. According to rumors, he married solely for the sake of a share of the land, but upon learning of the incestuous relationship between his wife and father-in-law, he dropped everything and went to the front. A month later, Victoria gave birth to a daughter, Cecilia. 

In the end, Victoria broke down and told about incest in confession. Gruber was sentenced to a year of hard labor, and she herself was imprisoned for a month. However, when Andreas returned, everything was resumed. Once their neighbor Lorenz Schlittenbauer wooed Victoria – his wife died then, he had sex with Victoria several times in the barn and must have decided that his farm still needs a mistress, besides, he is a respected non-poor man. But Andreas refused to marry his daughter, claiming that he “fondled her himself.” When it turned out that Victoria was pregnant, she persuaded Lorenz to recognize the child as her own, but she never got married, and Gruber was named his guardian. So Lorenz was forced to pay child support until the child came of age, not even being sure that he was from him.

The baby was named Joseph. Unfortunately, he was unwell, grew poorly and was often ill. For the villagers, this served as a signal that Joseph was born as a result of an unnatural relationship between Victoria and her father.

Footprints and ghosts

Shortly before the murder, Victoria was seized with anxiety. She repeated that she felt that the farm was being watched. She saw the silhouette of a man, but could not find out who it was. Andreas also noticed oddities: footprints in the snow around the house, rustling in the attic (and when he got up, no one was there), flashing torches … Once he found a Munich newspaper that no one in the family subscribed to. He also lost his keys.

On March 31, a couple of days before the murder, the maid Maria arrived at the farm. The previous one asked for a calculation when she began to suspect that a ghost was in charge of the house.

Murder

For several days, nothing was heard about the Gruber, but life was in full swing on the farm: smoke poured from the chimney, sounds were heard, someone walked … But after several people with whom Andreas had appointments, they could not getting inside, their neighbor Lorenz became worried and called the police. 

The bodies of all six were found in a house that was in perfect order. Little Joseph was killed in his cradle, Maria – in her bed, the rest were piled up in a heap by the barn and obviously not the first day dead. All residents of the farm were killed in one way – hitting the head with a hoe. At the same time, nothing of the valuable things and money, which was abundant on the farm, was not lost. Cynologists with dogs were able to take the trail of the criminal, but lost him at the edge of the forest.

The police interviewed about a hundred suspects, chief among whom was a neighbor of the Lorenz farm, whom Victoria had deceived and, perhaps, her ex-husband, who allegedly died at the front, could in fact be alive. In 2007, the students of the police academy, as a practice, re-investigated the case, found a new suspect, but out of respect for their relatives, they did not disclose their name.

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Mysteries

A dead star in our galaxy has sent a new radio signal

Magnetar SGR 1935 + 2154, which emitted the first known rapid radio burst from inside the Milky Way in April, flared again, giving astronomers another chance to unravel the cosmic mystery.

The little dead star that sent the signal earlier this year did it again.

On October 8, 2020, the CHIME / FRB collaboration discovered SGR 1935 + 2154 emitting three millisecond radio bursts in three seconds. Following the CHIME / FRB detection, the FAST radio telescope detected something else – pulsed radio emission corresponding to the rotation period of the magnetar.

It is very interesting to see SGR 1935 + 2154 again, and I am optimistic that if we study these bursts more closely, it will help us better understand the potential relationship between magnetars and fast radio bursts, “says astronomer Deborah Goode of the University of Britain Colombia in Canada and a member of CHIME / FRB.

Until April of this year, fast radio bursts (FRBs) were ever recorded only from outside the galaxy, usually from sources millions of light years away. The first was discovered in 2007, and since then astronomers have been trying to figure out what causes them.

As the name suggests, FRBs are bursts of extremely powerful radio waves found in the sky, some of which release more energy than hundreds of millions of suns. They only last a millisecond.

Since most sources of fast radio bursts seem to flare up once and no repetition is detected, they are highly unpredictable. In addition, the ones we detect usually come so far that our telescopes cannot distinguish individual stars. Both of these characteristics make it difficult to track the FRB to either the exact source galaxy or a known cause.

But SGR 1935 + 2154 is only 30,000 light-years away. On April 28, 2020, it spat out a massive millisecond pulse that has since been dubbed FRB 200428 under the fast radio transmission naming convention.

Once the signal strength was adjusted for distance, FRB 200428 was not as powerful as the extragalactic fast radio bursts, but everything else was in line with the profile.

“If the same signal came from a nearby galaxy, such as one of the closest typical FRB galaxies, it would look like an FRB to us,” said astronomer Srinivas Kulkarni of the California Institute of Technology. “We’ve never seen anything like it before.”

We don’t know much about the three new bursts yet. Since scientists are still working on the data, it is possible that some of the early findings could change, Goode said. But now we can say that they are both similar and not similar to FRB 200428.

They are a little less powerful again, but they are all still incredibly strong, and they all lasted only milliseconds.

“Although less bright than those detected earlier this year, they are still very bright flares that we would see if they were extragalactic,” Goode added.

“One of the more interesting aspects of this discovery is that our three bursts appear to have occurred during the same rotation period. The magnetar is known to rotate every ~ 3.24 seconds, but our first and second bursts were separated by 0.954 seconds, and the second and third were separated by 1.949 seconds. This is a bit unusual, and I think we will look at it later. “

This could reveal something new and useful about the behavior of magnetars, because – let’s face it – they’re pretty weird.

Magnetars, of which only 24 have been confirmed to date, are neutron stars; it is the collapsed core of a dead star, not massive enough to turn into a black hole. Neutron stars are small and dense, about 20 kilometers in diameter, with a maximum mass of about two Suns. But magnetars add something else to this: a stunningly powerful magnetic field.

These stunning fields are about a quadrillion times more powerful than Earth’s magnetic field and a thousand times more powerful than a normal neutron star. And we still do not fully understand how they came to this.

But we know that magnetars have periods of activity. As gravity tries to hold the star together – an internal force – the magnetic field pulling outward is so powerful that it distorts the star’s shape. This results in a constant voltage that sometimes causes giant starquakes and giant magnetic flares. SGR 1935 + 2154 is undergoing such activity, which suggests a link between magnetar attacks and at least some FRBs.

Obviously, astronomers have found that the source of the first intragalactic FRBs is of great interest. When CHIME / FRB reported their discovery, other astronomers decided to look at the star, including a team led by Zhu Weiwei of the National Astronomical Observatory of China, which had access to FAST, the largest single-aperture radio telescope in the world.

And they discovered something interesting, which was also reported on the astronomer’s Telegram – pulsed radio emission. These radio pulses were nowhere near as strong as the bursts, but they are extremely rare: if confirmed, SGR 1935 + 2154 will only be the sixth pulsed radio frequency magnetar. And the pulse period turned out to be equal to 3.24781 seconds – almost exactly the rotation period of the star.

This is curious, because until now astronomers have not been able to find a connection between magnetars and radio pulsars. Pulsars are another type of neutron star; they have a more normal magnetic field, but they pulsate with radio waves as they spin, and astronomers have long tried to figure out how the two types of stars are related.

Earlier this year, Australian astronomers identified a magnetar that behaved like a radio pulsar – a possible “missing link” between the two and evidence that at least some magnetars could evolve into pulsars. SGR 1935 + 2154 might be another piece of the puzzle.

“Based on these results and the increasing burst activity, we hypothesize that the magnetar may be in the process of transforming into an active radio pulsar,” Weiwei’s team wrote.

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Mysteries

Starlite: a mysterious material whose recipe was taken to the grave

Enthusiasts continue to struggle with the riddle of the unique material, the creator of which died without revealing the secret recipe.

At the dawn of the 1990s, reports began to appear in the world media about the creation of a new plastic material that could withstand heating to incredible temperatures – up to those that develop during a fire or on the shell of a spacecraft when passing through the atmosphere. Such statements were very embarrassing for scientists also because the author of the find was a man without a diploma or any formal education at all – the British hairdresser Maurice Ward.

Starlite – this name was invented by the granddaughter of Maurice Ward – was repeatedly tested by NASA as a possible heat insulator, the military and large corporations looked closely at it. The author did not refuse to provide samples for research, but he kept the recipe in complete secret, not sharing it with anyone – until 2011, when Maurice died, taking this secret with him. Perhaps thanks to this twist, the plot did not disappear into oblivion along with Petrik filters and other “miracle inventions”, and the history of the mysterious Starlite continues to this day.

According to Ward himself (by the way, his personal blog and YouTube channel survived on the Internet), he was prompted to search for fire-resistant material by a television report, from which he learned that many victims of fires die from poisoning by the caustic smoke of burning plastic. Previously, the hairdresser dabbled in the search for his own shampoo recipes, but around 1986 he completely devoted himself to a new venture. Three years later, the composition was found – and, of course, it turned out to be incredibly simple and included the most common store ingredients.

It was not easy for the “genius upstart” to break through, and over the next few years he pounded the thresholds of laboratories and companies without any benefit. Fate smiled only in 1993, when a message about Starlite was published in the authoritative International Defense Review. It referred to “amazing results” from some of the independent experts who tested Starlite. According to some reports, the material did not burn at temperatures up to 10,000 ° C and was not supplied even by a high-power laser.

Moreover, in the same 1993, the incredible thermal insulation properties of Starlite were demonstrated to the public. On the Air Force show Tomorrow’s World, a chicken egg coated with a thin layer of this material was sprayed with the heat of a gas burner for several minutes, after which it was shown that it remained raw inside. It would seem that the deed is done: it remains to find out which of the industrial giants will be interested in the invention and from whom Ward will be able to get legitimate millions, if not billions of dollars for the miracle recipe. The prospects for its use in engineering and construction were discussed. In 1994, the material was tested at Boeing as an alternative to space shuttle thermal insulation ceramics.

It is worth saying that Maurice Ward has always shown a certain paranoia about the security of his invention. As far as is known, he refused any projects in which he could not maintain a controlling 51 percent. The inventor personally monitored all samples that were submitted for testing, making sure that no one had the opportunity to reconstruct the Starlite composition. Ward also did not file a patent so as not to reveal the secret formula and repeatedly announced attempts to steal. The story that took place in the late 1990s is characteristic. It is known that at this time the inventor found partners from Canada and organized a startup Starlite Safety Solutions, which presented the results of material tests to investors. However, according to those same partners, Maurice Ward turned out to be completely incapable of negotiating – “the more he was offered, the more he asked for”

On the one hand, Ward is understandable. If the author’s statements are accurate, the find could be worth billions, which no corporation likes to share. On the other hand, Starlite could well change the modern world and save many lives, and perhaps doing so was not entirely ethical. Again, if all statements about the properties of this material are true. And this is its main mystery.

Indeed, despite all the doubts of many observers, there is enough authoritative evidence in favor of Starlite every now and then. Thus, Joe Kissell, who wrote about him in 2009, received a letter from Pamela Pohling-Brown, who authored the same article in the International Defense Review. She in every possible way confirmed the reliability of the results presented then and even named the expert who conducted the testing. 

“I’m afraid the topic is somehow classified,” summed up Pauline-Brown. By the way, Ward’s former partners from Canada hinted at the same. It turns out that there is still something to hide?

Maurice Ward has repeatedly stated that, fearing theft, he never even wrote down the recipe on paper, and keeps it in his head – fortunately, it is quite simple. According to him, the secret has been entrusted to only a few closest family members – however, they have not shown much activity since the death of the inventor in 2011. In 2013, two of Ward’s daughters announced the sale of a “certain version” of Starlite to the American company Thermashield, but the third said that she had kept the “best” formula. And since then nothing has been heard about Thermashield, and the company’s website has not been revoked.

But there are plenty of hypotheses and speculations about the composition of Starlite. They find the main clues all in the same publication by Pamela Pauline-Brown, where the following was said.

 “It consists of a set of organic polymers and copolymers with organic and inorganic additives, including borates, small amounts of ceramics and other barrier ingredients, for a total of 21. Perhaps uniquely, this thermally and explosion-proof material contains up to 90 percent organic matter.”

Armed with this data, yet another “genius self-taught” reproduced the recipe. Canadian Troy Hurtubise, known for developing the bear-repelling suit – and for testing inventions on himself – said he found the same or a similar recipe and demonstrated it under the name Firepaste. However, in 2014 he died in a car accident – as if the material really surrounds the halo of special operations.

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