Press Esc to close
Monday 22 December 2014
News updated at 7:46 PM IST
Weather
Max: 28.3°C
Min : 17.1°C
In Bengaluru
Partially cloudy

Code used by religious dissident cracked

PROVIDENCE (US) , Dec 1, 2012, AP:

Mystery de-coded

The obscure book’s margins are virtually filled with clusters of curious foreign characters — a mysterious shorthand used by 17th century religious dissident Roger Williams.

For centuries the scribbles went undeciphered. But a team of Brown University students has finally cracked the code.

Historians call the now-readable writings the most significant addition to Williams scholarship in a generation or more. Williams is Rhode Island’s founder and best known as the first figure to argue for the principle of the separation of church and state that would later be enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

His coded writings are in the form of notes in the margins of a book at the university’s John Carter Brown Library. The nearly 250-page volume, “An Essay Towards the Reconciling of Differences Among Christians,” was donated in the 1800s and included a handwritten note identifying Williams as the notes' author — though even that was uncertain at first.

A group including former library director Edward Widmer, Williams scholar and Rhode Island College history professor emeritus J Stanley Lemons and others at Brown started trying to unravel the so-called  “Mystery Book” a few years ago. But the most intense work began this year after the university opened up the challenge to undergraduates, several of whom launched an independent project.

“No one had ever looked at it systematically like this in generations,” Widmer said. “I think people probably looked at it and shrugged.”

Senior math major Lucas Mason-Brown, who has done the majority of the decoding, said his first instinct was to develop a statistical tool. The 21-year-old from Belmont, Mass., used frequency analysis, which looks at the frequency of letters or groups of letters in a text, but initially didn't get far.

He picked up critical clues after learning Williams had been trained in shorthand as a court stenographer in London, and built his own proprietary shorthand off an existing system. Mason-Brown refined his analysis and came up with a rough key. Williams’ system consisted of 28 symbols that stand for a combination of English letters or sounds.


Go to Top

Photo Gallery
People sit around a bonfire to warm themselves during a...

People sit around a bonfire to warm themselves during a...

IAF soldiers march during a rehearsal for the upcoming...

IAF soldiers march during a rehearsal for the upcoming...

Super Star Amitabh Bachchan  along with Chief Minister of...

Super Star Amitabh Bachchan along with Chief Minister of...

SP Chief Mulayam Singh Yadav chats with RJD President...

SP Chief Mulayam Singh Yadav chats with RJD President...

A Leopard walks by the bushes at Bannerghatta...

A Leopard walks by the bushes at Bannerghatta...

A Rajasthani folk dancer performs during handicraft...

A Rajasthani folk dancer performs during handicraft...

An Indian man exercises as fog envelops a park...

An Indian man exercises as fog envelops a park...

A shop is attracting people, to purchase Christmas...

A shop is attracting people, to purchase Christmas...

A family is performing the rituals as part of the Ellamavasye celebration...

A family is performing the rituals as part of the Ellamavasye celebration...

Students along with teacher takes part in the 'Swachha Bharath Abhiyan'...

Students along with teacher takes part in the 'Swachha Bharath Abhiyan'...

Copyright 2014, The Printers (Mysore) Private Ltd., 75, M.G Road, Post Box 5331, Bengaluru - 560001
Tel: +91 (80) 25880000 Fax No. +91 (80) 25880523