Few stories have the power to captivate us more than those that remain unresolved. Codes, puzzles and cryptic public art tease us with their intrigue: Why is their message
coded? What great secrets might they hide? Despite the efforts of our most learned historians, cleverest cryptographers and most determined treasure hunters, history is replete with riddles that continue to confound us today. Fictional tales like those featured in “The Da Vinci Code” and the movie “National Treasure” have got nothing on these real-life puzzles. Here’s our list of few of the world’s most cryptic unsolved mysteries and codes.
Named after the Polish-American antiquarian bookseller Wilfrid M. Voynich, who acquired it in 1912, the Voynich Manuscript is a detailed 240-page book written in a language or script that is completely unknown. Its pages are also filled with colorful drawings of strange diagrams, odd events and plants that do not seem to match any known species, adding to the intrigue of the document and the difficulty of deciphering it. The original author of the manuscript remains unknown, but carbon dating has revealed that its pages were made sometime between 1404 and 1438. It has been called “the world’s most mysterious manuscript.”
Theories abound about the origin and nature of the manuscript. Some believe it was meant to be a pharmacopoeia, to address topics in medieval or early modern medicine. Many of the pictures of herbs and plants hint that it many have been some kind of textbook for an alchemist. The fact that many diagrams appear to be of astronomical origin, combined with the unidentifiable biological drawings, has even led some fanciful theorists to propose that the book may have an alien origin.
One thing most theorists agree on is that the book is unlikely to be a hoax, given the amount of time, mone and detail that would have been required to make it.
Kryptos is a mysterious encrypted sculpture designed by artist Jim Sanborn which sits right outside the headquarters of the CIA in Langley, Va. It’s so mysterious, in fact, that not even the CIA has completely cracked the code.
The sculpture contains four inscriptions, and although three of them have been cracked, the fourth remains elusive (Read what the first three inscriptions say here) ). In 2006 Sanborn let slip that there are clues in the first inscriptions to the last one, and in 2010 he released another clue: the Letters 64-69 NYPVTT in part 4 encode the text BERLIN.
Think you have what it takes to solve it?
The Beale Ciphers are a set of three ciphertexts that supposedly reveal the location of one of the grandest buried treasures in U.S. history: thousands of pounds of gold, silver and jewels. The treasure was originally obtained by a mysterious man named Thomas Jefferson Beale in 1818 while prospecting in Colorado.
Of the three ciphertexts, only the second one has been cracked. Interestingly, the U.S. Declaration of Independence turned out to be the key — a curious fact given that Beale shares his name with the author of the Declaration of Independence.
The cracked text does reveal the county where the treasure was buried: Bedford County, Va., but its exact location is likely encrypted in one of the other uncracked ciphers. To this day, treasure hunters scour the Bedford County hillsides digging (often illegally) for the loot.
The mystery of the Phaistos Disc is a story that sounds like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. Discovered by Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier in 1908 in the Minoan palace-site of Phaistos, the disc is made of fired clay and contains mysterious symbols that may represent an unknown form of hieroglyphics. It is believed that it was designed sometime in the second millennium BC.
Some scholars believe that the hieroglyphs resemble symbols of Linear A and Linear B, scripts once used in ancient Crete. The only problem? Linear A also eludes decipherment.
Today the disc remains one of the most famous puzzles of archaeology.
Look from afar at the 18th-century Shepherd’s Monument in Staffordshire, England, and you might take it as nothing more than a sculpted re-creation of Nicolas Poussin’s famous painting, “Arcadian Shepherds.” Look closer, though, and you’ll notice a curious sequence of letters: DOUOSVAVVM — a code that has eluded decipherment for over 250 years.
Though the identity of the code carver remains a mystery, some have speculated that the code could be a clue left behind by the Knights of Templar about the whereabouts of the Holy Grail.
Many of the world’s greatest minds have tried to crack the code and failed, including Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin.
Tamam Shud case
Considered to be one of Australia’s most profound mysteries, the Tamam Shud Case revolves around an unidentified man found dead in December 1948 on Somerton beach in Adelaide, Australia. Aside from the fact that the man could never be identified, the mystery deepened after a tiny piece of paper with the words “Tamam Shud” was found in a hidden pocket sewn within the dead man’s trousers. (It is also referred to as “Taman Shud.”)
The phrase translates as “ended” or “finished” and is a phrase used on the last page of a collection of poems called “The Rubaiyat” of Omar Khayyam. Adding to the mystery, a copy of Khayyam’s collection was later found that contained a scribbled code in it believed to have been left by the dead man himself.
Due to the content of the Khayyam poem, many have come to believe that the message may represent a suicide note of sorts, but it remains un-cracked, as does the case.