Since then, the manuscript containing over 240 pages and written in an unknown writing system made historians, linguists, and cryptographers scratch their heads. Next to nothing was known about the text’s language and the encoding that was used to make it undecipherable. Failed analysis attempts include that of the codebreakers during World War II.
Now, fast forward to 2018, the world has artificial intelligence. A team of two researchers, including University of Alberta’s computer science professor Greg Kondrak and his graduate student Bradley Hauer, might have cracked one of most bizarre puzzles that exist on earth.
The researchers kicked-off by making their AI system read the “Universal Declaration of Humans Rights’ written in over 400 different languages. After the training, the AI was able to figure out that the language used in the manuscript is Hebrew. The finding surprised the researchers as they initially thought it is Arabic.
But knowing the language wasn’t enough as the text was still beyond understanding. As suggested by experts in the past, the researchers also assumed that the manuscript was made using alphagrams – the characters of a word rearranged in alphabetical order. The researchers came up with an algorithm to convert those alphagrams into words in Hebrew.
Kondrak said, “it turned out that over 80% of the words were in a Hebrew dictionary, but we didn’t know they if they made sense together.”
Another task was to understand the opening line of the 240-page manuscript. After taking unsuccessful help from their Hebrew speaking friends, the researchers loaded the phrase into Google Translate which gave them its somewhat understandable form in English.
“She made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people.”
For now, the Vonyich manuscript remains a mystery text until it attracts efforts from historians of ancient Hebrew. Kondrak said they are looking forward to applying their algorithms to other ancient scripts.