Encryption Has Been Around for as Long as the Pyramids

image description

Encryption Has Been Around for as Long as the Pyramids


We often think of encryption in terms of the computing sense of the word. Data is scrambled to prevent it from being stolen and used for nefarious purposes. However, encryption has been around for quite some time, dating back to ancient times. At its heart, encryption (a type of cryptography) must be defined as the protection of secrets.

Cryptography dates back to ancient Egypt, all the way back to 1900 B.C. It’s been suspected that these cryptographic symbols weren’t initially meant as a means of secret communication, but rather to add an element of mystery or intrigue to mystify the people around them. Several hundred years later in ancient Mesopotamia, cryptography was used to protect information such as recipes and other commercially valuable information. As time passed, cryptography would eventually adopt ciphers, or patterns used to mask the true nature of the message.

In fact, there is some ancient encryption that historians and linguists alike still haven’t been able to crack. The classic example of this is the medieval text referred to as the Voynich Manuscript. To this day, there’s still so much speculation concerning what the jibberish contained within the manuscript actually means–though some claim to have uncovered the truth, no specific theories have been proven and accepted by the academic community. The 15th-century document, thought to have been composed in Italy during the Italian Renaissance, seems to be a codex of sorts designed to inform the reader, through text and images, about a variety of topics, including pharmaceuticals, cosmology, and biology.

The problem, however, is that the text is unlike anything ever seen before. Nobody can read it; not even renowned cryptographers from the World War I and World War II era have been able to crack the language used by the manuscript. Of course, the images aren’t of much help either. Though they help to limit the possibilities of topics down to what’s shown on the page, the images don’t mean much without the context of the work as a whole.

The Voynich Manuscript has long astounded cryptographers and historians alike, and no amount of study has yielded any results. Some believe that the language used within the manuscript is a cipher of one of the many European languages that could have existed at its time of creation. Another theory believes that the words in the manuscript could be codes that must be looked up in some other code dictionary. While another defines the meaning of the letters by the shape of the prose, or the style of the penmanship. In fact, some believe that studying the document has no real value, and that it might even be a “hoax.” It would certainly be the most elaborate trolling in the history of language.

If you’re curious about what this age-old manuscript looks like, you can view a digital edition of it on Yale University Library’s website, through the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Encryption, by Today’s Standards
In a sense, the cryptography used by the Voynich manuscript is similar to modern-day encryption. Dubbed “military grade” encryption, these modern technology solutions are practically uncrackable by hackers. Data encrypted in this fashion appears to be random, jumbled bunches of characters that have no logic or reasoning, making it useless to others without the encryption key. It’s just one way that your business can preserve its secrets… without inventing a language and including random pictures to hide its true meaning.

What do you think of this ancient encryption? Do you think it was intentional, or do you think that it’s just a language that’s never been seen before? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to subscribe to our blog.