From the oldest manuscript ever found in the Americas to a document wrapping an Egyptian mummy – and printed in the wrong language – here are some of the most mind-blowing and unexplainable ancient manuscripts ever found.


You’ve heard of the Voynich Manuscript, the mysterious book that seems to be written in an unknown language that nobody’s ever been able to translate, and features drawings of plants and animals that don’t exist, and nobody knows who made it.

I’ve done a video about it here, it’s super famous, but it’s not the only mysterious ancient manuscript that’s ever been found.
There’s actually a lot of them, in fact I got a lot of comments on the Voynich video requesting that I talk about some of them but yeah, all around the world we’ve found documents that challenge what we think we know about history, stir up controversy, and sometimes… just make no sense.

So today let’s take a look at some of the most mysterious ancient manuscripts that have ever been found.

In my episode about the world’s weirdest form of writing, I talked about how we’re in a language crisis. I mean, nine languages a year stop being spoken worldwide.
It’s so bad that by 2080, we could be losing a language every two weeks.
We lose ideas specific to cultures when a language dies. We lose records of time periods and people. We lose stories that were important to them at the time and that could still have meaning in our lives today.
And then there are the languages we come across from our past that we can’t understand. Even though it’s found, its meaning is lost to us.

But what might be even weirder is when we find manuscripts or documents in languages we do understand, where we can decipher the information in it, but that information is… weird.
Weird or out of place or out of time, or it’s made in a way that we can’t figure out by people who we don’t know who they are.
Some of these that I’m going to talk about are still being studied so we may find out in the future that they’re not for real, but some of these have been studied thoroughly and are super legit. Which only brings up more questions.
So let’s start our treasure hunt where else? In Egypt.

So, for this episode, I want to talk about things like it, ancient manuscripts that are weird, controversial, and baffling.
Some have been proven authentic. Some are still be studied. But all are equally interesting. Let’s start first over in Egypt.

Liber Linteus Zagrabiensis (Linen Book of Zagreb)

The Museum of Zagreb in Croatia acquired an Egyptian mummy in 1868. It was of an ordinary woman, no one of royalty or a priest.
But what was interesting was what she was wrapped in. It was linen strips with writing on them. And it wasn’t Egyptian hieroglyphics. It was something unknown at the time.
Almost 20 years later, museum officials sent the wrappings to Vienna. There, Austrian Egyptologist Jakob Krall looked at them and figured out what the language was.

It was Etruscan. Whoever wrapped the mummy had used strips from an Etruscan linen book.
This was an incredible discovery. Up until then, no surviving examples of Etruscan linen books had ever been found.
But Egypt’s arid climate and the materials used to dry the mummy out helped preserve the textile.

And this wasn’t just the first Etruscan linen text found completely intact. It was also the longest Etruscan text ever found.
The Linen Book of Zagreb was originally a sheet of about 3.4 meters long before it was torn into strips for bandages.
The sheet contained 12 columns of text written in black and red ink, and about 60 percent of the original text is found on the strips.
Papyrus from the Egyptian Book of the Dead was also found wrapping the mummy’s body, which could offer a clue about who she was.

So, what was the Linen Book of Zagreb about? Basically, it’s a calendar about which rites and sacrifices should be done throughout the year.
There are certain gods mentioned, like Nethuns, who was an Etruscan water god related to the Roman god Neptune.

Experts think it was composed near the modern-day Italian city of Perugia, according to certain words and names in the text.
The linen itself was dated to the fourth century B.C.E., but the writing is from much later.

Like, “January” is used as the start of a ritual year. That means it was probably written between 200 and 150 B.C.E.
No one knows exactly how the Etruscan text found its way to Egypt.
Since the mummy was discovered in the port city of Alexandria, one theory is that she was wrapped in whatever material was available.
This means there’d be no link between the Etruscan text and the Book of the Dead.

But another theory is that the woman was of Etruscan ancestry, so she was buried according to the customs of both her ancestral and adoptive cultures.

Gospel of Judas

Instead of a traitor, could Judas Iscariot have been Jesus’ best friend?
According to the Gospel of Judas, he was.
Written on papyrus dating to around the 2nd century A.D., it tells the story of Jesus asking Judas to betray him so that he can fulfill the prophecy and rise to heaven.

The papyrus is actually a codex that was translated from ancient Greek to the Coptic language around 300 A.D.
It was discovered in the 1970s in a cave near El Minya, Egypt, then passed around antiquities dealers before getting stored away in a safe deposit box on Long Island, New York.

Antiquities dealer Frieda Nussberger-Tchacos bought the manuscript, failed to sell it, and then shipped it to the Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art in Basel, Switzerland, in 2001.
There, Rodolphe Kasser reconstructed and translated the text.
The 66-page manuscript not only contains the Gospel of Judas, but also the First Apocalypse of James, a letter from Peter to Philip, and a fragment of a text called the Book of Allogenes (allo-gene-ES).
Okay, so Judas wasn’t the author of the text. It was most likely written by a Gnostic.

By the way, a Gnostic is someone who believes that salvation is achieved through knowledge instead of faith. They also don’t believe the world’s creator is perfect.
So, the Gospel of Judas shows him as Jesus’ favorite disciple and would give Judas secret knowledge that he didn’t tell the other disciples.
Things like the creation of humans, angels, and other celestial beings, and the nature of the universe.
The text also includes conversations between Judas and Jesus in the week before Passover.
But its biggest controversy is the idea that Jesus wanted Judas to betray him. He wanted it to happen from a friend rather than an enemy.
Of course, this challenges the firm roots of Christianity. Some scholars have even gone so far as to describe the gospel as fiction or heretical forgery.

It offers a different understanding of God, which in a perfect world would be okay. You know, different viewpoints and all.

Treatise of the Vessels

Another Bible-related manuscript is the Massekhet Kelim, or the Treatise of the Vessels. It claims to reveal what happened to the Ark of the Covenant and King Solomon’s treasures.
It lists items like 200,000 talents of pearls, 77 gold tablets from walls in Eden, 1,000 lyres, and 7,000 lutes.
All these items were hidden in different locations before the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem.
These locations are purposely obscure but also kind of specific. Like, “in a tower” or at the “Spring of Zedekiah.”
Professor James Davila from St. Andrews University translated the text, but its age, authorship, and origin are uncertain.
There are also two versions. One version was put into composite Hebrew volumes between the 17th and 20th centuries.
In this version, the treasures were stashed away around Babylon, between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.
The other version that appears on two, ancient plaques says the treasures were stored in the Holy Land.
Either way, Davila believes that whoever wrote the treatise was writing fiction based on different legends.
As he told Live Science in 2014:
“The writer draws on traditional methods of scriptural exegesis [interpretation] to deduce where the treasures might have been hidden, but I think the writer was approaching the story as a piece of entertaining fiction, not any kind of real guide for finding the lost Temple treasures.”
Also, there are similarities to the Copper Scroll, which is one of the Dead Sea Scrolls dating back more than 1,900 years.
For example, both texts refer to “vessels” and include listings of gold.
So where exactly is the Ark of the Covenant? In its obscure way, the text says the location won’t be revealed “until the day of the coming of the Messiah son of David.”

Grolier Codex

Looters unearthed a few items in a cave in Mexico in 1965. They found things like a wooden mask and a knife with a handle shaped like a fist.
They also found a manuscript. But because they were looters, few people believed them that it was authentic.
The 11-page manuscript on bark paper includes images of pre-Columbian death gods, a calendar for tracking Venus, and Mayan images and symbols.
It eventually found its way to a book collector named Josué Sáenz who had it displayed in the Grolier Club in New York. Which is how it got its name, the “Grolier Codex.”

That was another reason scholars doubted its authenticity.
But in 2016, it was determined to be genuine.

A team of anthropologists, archaeologists, and cultural experts examined the document closely. They looked at its content, physical structure, and style.
They used everything from ultraviolet imaging to X-rays to microscopic analysis. They even radiocarbon dated it to the 13th century.
Using non-invasive methods, the team also proved that the pigments and ink in the manuscript contained no modern materials, that they were consistent with pigments used in three other Maya codices.
In fact, the blue pigment found on one page is from indigo dye and palygorskite, which is a clay mineral the Mayans used for blue pigments.
This mineral was only identified a part of Maya blue in 1964 and wasn’t synthesized in a lab until the 1980s.

So, yeah, the looters couldn’t had made that ink.
Also, there are images in the codex that a forger in the 1960s wouldn’t have known about. On one page, there a mountain god pictured with a cleft in the center of his head that contains maize kernels.

Not until 1974 was a similar image found on a wall painting, so forgers would’ve had to know about the wall painting before faking a book.
While it’s not as famous as the Dresden Codex, the Grolier Codex does give information about Venus’ role in Mayan astrology and religion.
Also, its drawings are pretty gnarly.

Handbook of Ritual Power

There was a time in the ancient world when incantations and spells weren’t frowned upon because almost everyone believed in a little bit of magic.
And that’s where the Coptic Handbook of Ritual Power comes into play.
It’s also called the Egyptian Handbook of Ritual Power, and it was only recently deciphered in 2014 by two Australian researchers.
An antiques dealer sold it to Macquarie University in Australia in 1981, and it’s a handbook for rituals and spells.

Some of the spells include ones for love, curing black jaundice, and instructions for performing an exorcism.
Overall, there are 20 pages of parchment offering 27 spells and several invocations and illustrations. At one time, it may have been two documents that were combined later on.

Scholars are unsure where it was originally found, but they believe someone wrote it in pre-Islamic Upper Egypt around 1,300 years ago.
There are several references to Jesus and the Sethians in the manuscript. The Sethians were religious groups who identified with Seth, Adam and Eve’s third son.
The groups also identified with a god-like being named Baktiotha. This figure opens up the codex with the lines:
“I give thanks to you and I call upon you, the Baktiotha: The great one, who is very trustworthy; the one who is lord over the forty and the nine kinds of serpents.”
The translators think the person who wrote the text or used it was probably not a priest but maybe a scholar who would help people achieve their goals.
For example, there are spells for someone to do better in business or to get along with other people.
Today, we call these spells self-help books.

Honorable Mentions

Before we get to the last manuscript, here are some honorable mentions of other weird and mysterious items.
The colonial-era Jamestown Slate was found in an old well in Jamestown, Virginia, and has overlapping, scratched inscriptions and drawings of a man dressed in a ruffled collar.

The Lands of the Piri Reis Map is a 1513 document that shows mountains in South America that were unknown at the time and a detailed Antartica without ice, even though it’s been covered in ice for 6,000 years.
Easter Island’s wood tablets contain an undecipherable rongorongo script that runs left to right and then right to left when turned upside down.

There are 242 symbols on the Phaistos Disc that show things like an arrow, a beehive, a cat, a tree, and a tattooed head that may be phonetic groups but since they’re aren’t many of them, they can’t be deciphered.
The Book of Soyga

According to 16th century scholar and mystic John Dee, angels transcribed the Book of Soyga for Adam while he was in Eden.
A medium named Edward Kelley told him this. Even though Dee was a man of science, he was also interested in the occult.

So, it makes sense that the Book of Syoga was part of his library.
The 200-page book is written in Latin and seems to be about Renaissance magical practices and beliefs. Parts of the book include sections on astronomy, the identification of specific angels, summoning demons, and magic.

Dee understood the Latin text, but the book’s last 36 pages were confusing. Each page contains a square of 36 rows and 36 columns of random Latin letters. That’s a total of 46,656 characters.

Dee couldn’t decode it, so that’s why he asked the medium Kelley for answers. And he was told that only the archangel Michael could translate it.
Oh, and if anyone figured out how to translate that section, they’d be cursed to die within two and a half years.
The text itself poses some problems. Some of the Latin words appear written backward for no apparent reason. Indeed, the word “Soyga” may be a reverse of “Agios,” a Greek word for “Sacred” or “Holy.”
The book was auctioned off in 1608 after Dee died and was then lost for around 400 years.

But two copies were found in 1994, one in the British Library in London and the other in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.
Then in 2006, mathematician and cryptologist Jim Reeds figured out the code.
Not to get too much into the weeds about it, but each table is based on a “magic word” of six letters. This is the seed word, and it’s different on each page.

He discovered that the first 24 tables are named after constellations in the zodiac, two tables for each sign. Then there are seven tables named after planes, four after the natural elements, and one after the figure of “magister,” or “master.”

So, even with the code cracked, we still don’t know what it all means. One theory is that it’s a representation of the universe.
Remember that curse? Well, Jim Reeds is still alive.
But then again, he only cracked the code. It didn’t figure out its meaning.

Because we’re humans, we love a good mystery. Making sense of the world is how we’re naturally wired.

New, strange things help keep us alive or feeling like we’re alive. Otherwise, complacency could be the death of us.

But there’s something I’ve always wondered about when we run across mysterious documents like these. Were they just people being creative?
We tend to treat everything written in the past like it’s a pure document. But surely, people made up stories back then like we do today.

Like, I’ve joked before that people hundreds of years in the future might find a Harry Potter book and think we all had magical powers.
Ravenclaws represent, yo!

What if these manuscripts and codexes were just people having fun? What if the Book of Judas was a kind of fan fiction or alternative history exercise?
But then again, maybe the ability to write was so rare and the process of creating documents so labor intensive that it was unlikely people would have done all that for a goof.

I guess what I’m saying is, it’s no mystery that both thoughts are interesting.

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