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Deciphering the Philosophers' Stone: how we cracked a 400-year-old alchemical cipher

By Richard Bean, Research Fellow, The University of Queensland
Megan Piorko, Allington Postdoctoral Fellow, Science History Institute, Georgia State University
Sarah Lang, PostDoc in Digital Humanities at Centre of Information Modelling (University of Graz), University of Graz
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What secret alchemical knowledge could be so important it required sophisticated encryption?

The setting was Amsterdam, 2019. A conference organised by the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry had just concluded at the Embassy of the Free Mind, in a lecture hall opened by historical-fiction author Dan Brown.

At the conference, Science History Institute Postdoctoral Researcher Megan Piorko presented a curious manuscript belonging to English…


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