Yannick Benaben and the fake “La Buse” cryptogram…?

It’s no secret that there is little of substance about “La Buse” (the pirate captain Olivier Levasseur) on the web. Errrm… or anywhere else, to be brutally honest.

One of the few good places is photographer Yannick Benaben’s website, where he has posted up a set of pages called Sur les Traces du Trésor de La Buse Entre Histoire et Légendes Insulaires. This is a mixed bag of “La Buse”-related threads, some of them genuinely historical (which is good), but also a lot of fairly empty cryptogram-based speculation too (which is… not quite so good).

Regardless, I’m happy to recommend his set of “Sur les Traces…” pages as a genuinely useful resource covering the Indian Ocean phase of La Buse’s piratical life (as long you don’t inhale the cipher speculations part of it too deeply).

“Les Diamants de Goa”

However – and this is where it gets confusing – Yannick has also published an online story called Les Diamants de Goa. This has a (fictional) underwater archaeologist called “Francesca Verrazone” working at a (fictional) French underwater archaeological institute in Marseille, albeit one that sounds a great deal like (the very real) Marseille underwater archaeological institute DRASSM, which is indeed one of the first (real) places you’d go if you were looking for an underwater site in French (or formerly-French) territorial waters.

Yannick’s story has his (fictional) Verrazone arrange a (fictional) conference to air her (fictional) theory about the Nossa Senhora do Cabo, the (real) treasure-filled ship that La Buse captured. He then has a whole load of (fictional) marine archaeologists go and look for it: and so it all proceeds.

But though he seems to have enjoyed this writing (I suspect he had the film rights at least half in mind), the piece has ended up unfinished, stranded precariously on the water’s edge of his website. And people (particularly those who rely heavily on Google Translate, I expect) find links to his story high up in their La Buse search results and conclude it must be just as true as the “Sur Les Traces…” pages, when it’s in fact no more than a frippery.

As a result, you have to be very careful as to which “tree” of pages you’re looking at (i.e. the “Sur Les Traces…” set or the “Les Diamants de Goa” set), because while the former is largely factual (though laced with cipher speculation), the latter is simply made up – a bit of cipher-themed fun.

This difficulty becomes most apparent when Benaben’s (fictional) narrative deals with the captured treasure ship…

The ‘Nossa Senhora do Cabo e São Pedro de Alcântara’

There are plenty of things we can say for certain about this (very real) ship. The Nossa Senhora do Cabo e São Pedro de Alcântara (or ‘Nossa Senhora do Cabo’ for short):
* was built in Amsterdam in 1710 and called the ‘Zeelandia’ or ‘Gelderland';
* was a two-deck 2nd rate ship of the line with 72 guns;
* was bought by Portugal in 1717 and renamed ‘Nossa Senhora do Cabo e São Pedro de Alcântara';
* entered service in August 1717;
* having survived a terrible storm, was captured in port by Olivier Levasseur (“La Buse”) in 1721;
* subsequently disappeared without a trace (presumed sunk).

(Note that because people writing about La Buse tend to be French, the ship’s Portuguese name tends to get Frenchified into “La Vierge du Cap”.)

In Yannick’s story, however, he has his (fictional) marine archaeologist refer to the (real) “Grande Panorama de Lisboa” (a huge set of tiles depicting Lisbon around 1700):

grande-panorama-de-lisboa_sec-xviii

He has Verrazone (fictionally) assert that a (real) ship (genuinely) drawn near the front of the tiles is the Nossa Senhora do Cabo:

detail_azulejo

As you have probably already worked out from the above, this cannot actually be the Nossa Senhora do Cabo: the tiles were drawn before 1703 (because that was when the artist died), while that ship was not built until 1710, and did not arrive in Lisbon until 1717. Also, while the ship depicted does have two decks, it only seems to have ~44 cannon (rather than 72): the real Nossa Senhora do Cabo was a substantially bigger beast.

(Perhaps someone else will be able to find out what this ship depicted actually was, because there wasn’t anything on the 3decks website that seemed to match: doubtless a plucky Portuguese historian has already trawled through many more fleet descriptions to do precisely this.)

The First Cryptogram

My current understanding is that the first “La Buse” / “Le Butin” cryptogram – the one that Charles de la Roncière wrote about in his 1934 book “Le Flibustier Mysterieux” (and how I’ve tried to get a copy of that book, but without success) – has not been sighted since 1934.

(And for what it’s worth, I still fail to see how this has anything to do with La Buse.)

However, following an exchange of comments on Klaus Schmeh’s recent page on La Buse, I received what seemed to be a low resolution version of a photo of the real first cryptogram (“crypto_musee_2004″). Looking at the EXIF data attached, it was (c) Yannick Benaben and dated 2004:07:18 13:10:30.

cryptogramme_musee

When I then trawled through the Wayback Machine, the only place that this appeared on Yannick’s site was at the bottom of the ‘Préambule’ section of his (fictional) “Les Diamants de Goa” web pages. It therefore seems – unless someone can prove otherwise – highly likely to me that Yannick mocked this up for the purposes of his “Les Diamants de Goa” story sometime before 1st Sep 2009.

The Second Cryptogram

Going forward a little in (Wayback Machine) time to 16th October 2011, we find that Yannick has replaced the (presumed mocked-up) image of the first cryptogram with an image of the second “La Buse” cryptogram, the one which Emmanuel Mezino wrote an entire book about (but which I don’t believe is genuine).

As far as I know, this would have been the first public sighting of this second cryptogram.

cryptogramme_la_buse

Now here’s the curious thing. If we look closely at the ship on the second cryptogram identified as “La Perle” (of which Manu very kindly sent me a close-up copy), we see something rather odd:

1756973360

What is arguably far too coincidental is that the back of “La Perle” is almost exactly the same as the back of the ship drawn on the Grande Panorama:

ship-comparison

My Conclusion

I didn’t believe that the second cryptogram was real before, and now I really don’t believe it all. To be precise, it seems extremely likely to me not only that Yannick Benaben mocked up the image of the first cryptogram, but also that he was the person who created the whole second cryptogram. He had the means, opportunity, and – crucially – the motive to do it.

…unless anyone knows better?

An Enigma wristwatch…?!

Link of the month has to be this rather extraordinary handmade “Enigma wristwatch” from New Zealand.

enigma-wristwatch-cropped

To be precise, it’s a home-made wrist-mounted three-rotor Enigma simulator with a three-button user interface. But the fun of the thing lies not so much in any celebration of historical code-breaking as in the extraordinary (if occasionally obsessive) contortions the guy went through to make it. It’s a “Joy Of Techs” thing, and unless you’ve ever fettled a pair of moving parts to get them to fit together ;-) it probably won’t float your boat.

What I find particularly poignant is that this has emerged into the light at about the same time as the Apple Watch: and so within a matter of days, somebody will doubtless have built an interactive Enigma watch skin you can buy in the App Store for $0.99 or so.

apple-watch-enigma-skin

Incidentally, the same person who made the Enigma wristwatch also made his own John Steed puppet, deftly crossing original Avengers retro (“Would the winner come to the unsaddling enclosure?”) with the Thunderbirds Supermarionation of Gerry Anderson, arguably the finest thing from Slough not made of chocolate and caramel.

john-steed-puppet-small

Again, the guy – following the plot of the Avengers episode “How To Succeed At Murder” – decided to build his own wristwatch controller to control the puppet. Which is really nice.

remote-control-watch

Here’s what the original Avengers wristwatch controller looked like, back in 1966:-

avengers-remote-control-watch

All of which brings me back sweetly to the future of smartwatches, as foreseen in a Slough warehouse 50 years ago (though note that Thunderbirds was set in 2065 rather than 2015):

thunderbirds-watch

How far we’ve come, and yet in many ways not so far at all! ;-)

Conspiracy comedy podcast takes on the Somerton Man…

For a lighter side to the Tamam Shud / Somerton Man case, you could (probably) do worse than Mose[le]y over to the Consbeeracy Theories Conspiracy Comedy Podcast site, where their latest episode is 009: Follow The 100° Proof Fence (Somerton Man).

Consbeeracy Theories

The guys making the podcast clearly find each other hugely funny: though there are indeed a few good yoks in there (Tamam Shuda Cuda Wuda, etc), the closest they get to comedic historical insight is wondering why the dead man wasn’t wearing an “Australian Tie” (i.e. why he didn’t have vomit down his front having been poisoned). All in all, I get the feeling that their research train set out from Wikipedia, but never arrived at Feltusville.

All the same, it is (putting all their lazy stereotypes aside) a not-entirely-unpleasant contrast to the usual po-faced ‘battling theorists’ mushfest that gets posted: but just don’t expect to get to the end any wiser. :-) Enjoy!

The Rubaiyat note and Gordon Cramer’s “Q”…

Over the last couple of years, Australian researcher Gordon Cramer has been promoting (and indeed gaining a little media attention for) his various theories about the Somerton Man that he has patiently built up over the last four years: for example, that the dead man was a Cold War spy and that the Rubaiyat note contains microwriting.

Specifically, Gordon asserts that he can discern microwriting inside a number of the letters that were found on the back of the Rubaiyat, most notably the letter “Q”.

As I understand it, his claim is that even though the contrasty writing in the image (looks like it) was written in a laundry pen on a shiny surface (say, a print of a photograph), that overwriting process still managed to preserve the fine detail of the original microwriting additively within it: and that by using a carefully chosen sequence of image enhancement steps, he thinks he has been able to reconstruct that original microwriting.

I was sceptical of this claim for many reasons. For instance, it seems hugely likely to me that we can see a small part of the original writing that (one would hope) lies beneath the laundry pen marks…

first-letter

…yet as far as I can see, there is no sign there of any microwriting. And if microwriting isn’t there, why should microwriting be anywhere else? But I digress. :-)

More recently Gordon has, in response to questions from me, elucidated the experimental process he followed by which he believes he was able to make that microwriting visible. As a result, I have gone through the process of trying to understand and reproduce his results, and I’m posting here to explain what I found.

Here’s the original Q, cropped and rotated counterclockwise by 90 degrees but otherwise completely unchanged from the original scans:

rubaiyat-q-raw-rotated

We can, without much difficulty, directly pick out the set of grey levels in the image that make up the curve of the Q (that Gordon claims contains the microwriting): and if we adjust the image’s levels so that this range (12.5% to 50%) fills the entire 8-bit dynamic range, this is what we get:

rubaiyat-q-raw-rotated-contrast-enhanced

Let’s now blur this (which is essentially what happens when you resize an image to be slightly smaller than 100%):

rubaiyat-q-raw-rotated-contrast-enhanced-blurred

And then let’s sharpen it up again to try to bring out the detail that Gordon thinks is there:

rubaiyat-q-raw-rotated-contrast-enhanced-blurred-sharpened

Amazingly, we can now apparently see the word “SEGA” starting to coalesce out of the digital mists. Of course, the video games company SEGA (which started out as “Service Games”) only became known as “SEGA” in 1965 or so (it’s the first two letters of each word), so the actual chances of the Somerton Man having been a secret Sonic The Hedgehog fan are basically zero. Possibly even less.

Yet a number of other image processing experiments I carried out on the Q produced different results. All in all, while I can see how Gordon extracted some kind of microwriting from inside the Q, I also believe that he could have extracted any number of different messages from the same source image (with only slightly different image enhancement sequences), and that he could very likely have extracted plausible-looking microwriting from any sufficiently noisy source image.

In the Voynich Manuscript world, we have an extraordinarily close precedent for this whole thing: in the 1920s, Professor William Romaine Newbold used large prints of rotograph images, strong lighting and large magnification to extract what he believed to be microwriting – specifically Latin shorthand strokes. The intense effort of doing this seems to have sent Newbold to an early grave, followed by posthumous debunking to the point that he is now often cited as the worst possible way of doing cipher research: which is not a good end to any historical story.

Here, though, we have something that Newbold didn’t have: the possibility of better images. So rather than institute yet another dreary bout of back-and-forth comment tennis, why don’t we just see if we can get a higher-resolution (and higher bit-depth) scan of the photograph in the newspaper archive and see if we can work with that instead? If there is microwriting there, it should come out clearly. If there isn’t, it should vanish completely.

Review: “The Voynich Deception” by Michael Lancashire…

I’ve read a lot – and I really do mean a lot – of Voynich Manuscript-themed (and other genuine-historical-cipher-themed) novels over the years, and I have to say that the whole experience rarely gets any better than just-about-OK-if-there’s-nothing-much-on-TV. Yes, even with TV in the nadir-like pit it has winched itself down into these days.

Sad as it is, such novelists’ including-an-ancient-unbroken-cipher writing mechanism comes across to reflective readers as rather, I don’t know, desperate-and-wanting-to-be-loved (and doubtless someone will tell me an obscure German or Icelandic adjective to describe this more precisely). More precisely, it shouts out “please God, let importing some genuine real-world mystery be enough to distract attention from the countless plot flaws, the unconvincing characters, and the piss-poor writing“. And that’s before you’ve even got to page one.

At the same time, none of the above ever hurt Dan Brown, so why not press that button and see where it leads, eh?

the-voynich-deception

Indeed, Michael Lancashire pressed that very button: and to his credit, his novel “The Voynich Deception” comes out of it basically an OK read. As the backdrop to his story, he has an unfeasibly clever guy (‘The Architect’) devising unfeasibly-clever-yet-still-oddly-micromanaged evil plans for ambitious crims to buy to execute. The rest of the plot involves a group of brutal, greedy and unlovable – though utterly uninvolving – Albanian gangsters following a blood-soaked trail of Voynich-linked cookie crumbs ever onwards towards a long-concealed treasure trove, where… well, that last bit would be telling, so my lips are sealed.

But at the same time, what I can say is that the structural weakness of “The Voynich Deception” is that while Lancashire’s ‘Architect’ is just an anti-Sherlock Holmesian conceit, the entire story pivots entirely on a single (admittedly fairly large) twist, one which the author flags very early on. As such, it’s more like a long short story than a novel: and for all the (occasional spatter of) blood ‘n’ gore, it does end up feeling a bit… thin.

Still, Lancashire is respectful towards the Voynich Manuscript (which is good), and he tells his story at a fair old pace, something far too many cipher novelists struggle with (hint: a fight they usually lose ignominiously).

The Kindle ebook version is only £1.99, so it’s not a huge investment or risk. And if you like The Voynich Deception, Lancashire has since written an Architect prequel novella (“Kernel Panic”) for you to move onto. All in all: not my tasse de thé, sure, but a perfectly OK read.

Those Chinese Gold Bar Ciphers, once again…

It turns out that the Internet has a little bit more information about this affair than I thought, specifically a 2005 report about the Chinese Gold Bar Ciphers (in Chinese, and possibly copied from an earlier blog entry), which seems to paint a rather more complicated story.

(Incidentally, a commenter on Klaus Schmeh’s website (where the Chinese Gold Bar Cipher is #19 of his top 25 ciphers) Google-Translated parts of this page into rather wonky German (the commenter preferred to stick with Google rather than ask someone at a nearby Chinese restaurant), but it’s probably not the best translation you’ll ever see).

The Big Fat Secret History – and I think you’re going to like this – seems to be that at the Shanghai branch of Citibank on 3rd March 1933, General Wang Jialie allegedly bought 300 million of Citibank’s shares for just over $300 million, but that (inevitably) everyone involved has somehow managed to cover up this transaction ever since. Believe it or don’t (as is your right): but that is apparently what it says.

(Note that in 1933, it wasn’t yet “Citibank” but was still “National City Bank”: according to Schwikipedia, its Shanghai branch was opened in 1902 by the International Banking Corporation, which in 1918 then became a subsidiary of National City Bank. NCB seems to have been a very major contributor to the 1929 Stock Market Crash: its boss at that time, Charles E. Mitchell, resigned in 1933, following investigation by the Pecora Commission. Hence 1933 was both the bottom of the stock market and an interesting time in the NCB’s history.)

Anyway, one of the gold bars is claimed to be a licence attesting to this transaction and its witnesses: (Kuomintang Generals) [He] Yingqin, Zhu Peide, Li Fulin; as well as Governor Sijie, Ruanruo Fu, and secretary Anna Si Lina.

“王家烈将军于中华民国 1933 年 3 月 3 日 10 时 30 分 3 秒( 股票以秒计算 ),以黄金、珠宝、法郎、马克、英磅折美元叁亿伍仟伍佰万元。存入美利坚合众国美国花旗银行上海分行。鉴存人何应钦、朱培德、李福林等( 当时都是军长 )三人座谈入行。行长斯杰、阮若夫,秘书安娜斯丽娜,金货总重壹点捌公斤”

Zhu Peide was a Military Intelligence man who had worked his way up to become a general: here’s a photo of Chiang Kaishek crying at Zhu Peide’s 1937 funeral. Li Fulin was also a General – there’s a (roughly-translated) biography of him here (e.g. it says he died of hypertension aged 79 in Hong Kong in 1952). And He Yingqin was also a General: there’s a picture of him as he accepts the Japanese Instrument of Surrender in 1945.

However, “Governor Sijie, Ruanruo Fu, and secretary Anna Si Lina” I don’t (yet) know anything about.

The same page also reproduces three American Chinese-language newspaper articles from 1993, which I’m guessing are all saying much the same thing (but please feel free to correct me on this).

That Chinese Gold Bar Cipher thing…

Even though Elonka listed the 1933 Chinese Gold Bar Cipher case on her “List of Famous Unsolved Codes and Ciphers” page many years ago, it isn’t something I’ve ever covered here, simply because the link she gave (to an International Association for Cryptologic Research page) is enough to answer most people’s questions.

Annoyingly, though, the same information has been cut-and-pasted so many times in the Internet that it is almost impossible to find any genuine opinion or insight. So perhaps taking a fresh look at this is somewhat overdue!

Also rather annoyingly, there isn’t a definitive numbering system in place for the ciphertexts on the seven gold bars: and it’s not entirely certain which is the front and which is the back of individual gold bars. It’s all a bit shabby, if you ask me. :-(

Anyway, I’ll start by laying out my thoughts on a single side of a single gold bar, and it should quickly become apparent what I think of this whole matter…

One Of The Gold Bars

5.1

My transcription (only very slightly different from the IACR transcription) of this is:-

    UGMNCBXCKDBEY           VIOHIKNNGUAB
                           HFXPCQYZVATXAWIZPVE
                            YQHUDTABGALLOWLS
                           XLYPISNANIRUSFTFWMIY
                           KOWVRSRWTMLDH
                           JKGFIJPMCWSAEK
                           ABRYCTUGVZXUPB
                           GKJFHYXODIE
RHZVIYQIYSXVNQXQWIOVWPJO         ZUQUPNZN
SKCDKJCDJCYQSZKTZJPXPWIRN       GKJFHYXODIE
MQOLCSJTLGAJOKBSSBOMUPCE
FEWGDRHDDEEUMFFTEEMJXZR

Note that the “GKJFHYXODIE” line is repeated twice here, and the bottom two lines are repeated on a different gold bar (“MQOLCSJTLGAJOKBSSBOMUPCE” repeats once and “FEWGDRHDDEEUMFFTEEMJXZR” repeats twice, side by side).

Cryptanalytically, the letter instance statistics for the above are very flat, which makes simple substitution ciphers and/or transposition ciphers highly unlikely: and yet entire lines appear to be repeated, which would seem to point away from polyalphabetic ciphers too.

  I  E  J  K  S  X  Y  C  D  O  P  U  W A F G N Z B H M Q R T V L
 13 11 11 11 11 11 11 10 10 10 10 10 10 9 9 9 9 9 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 7

I half-heartedly tried a number of well-known cipher solvers on it in CryptoCrack, but didn’t really believe any of them would produce anything plausible. And they didn’t. So… up close, it’s a bit of mess, right?

General Wang?

Presumably the military-looking man in the middle of this gold bar is “General Wang” of the alleged narrative.

is-this-general-wang

There’s another (slightly clearer but still rather scronky-looking) image of what appears to be a General on a different gold bar, which I’ll include here for the sake of practicality:

general-wang-again

One Redditor seems to have suggested (in a deleted comment) that this may be General Wang Jialie, though the Chinese ideograms beneath the picture look to me to be a different name (please correct me if I’m wrong!) And again, a rather different General Wang Yaowu wasn’t made a general until 1935, so the timing there seems wrong too.

Similarly, General Wang Sheng wasn’t yet a general in 1933: although he was instrumental in policing the introduction of the gold-backed Chin-yuan Chuan currency in China just after the Second World War, his life was a fairly open book, and I think it would be fairly surprising if there was an entire gold-bar-related chapter missing from it. :-|

Or could it have been General Wang Jun, who died in 1941? (But his shoulders look wrong?) Or General Wang Xidao who died in 1937? (But he was only promoted in 1936?) Yet again, I suspect we are looking at none of these generals, which is frustrating.

If this is a General Wang, which General Wang is it? I’d really like the opinion of someone able to read Chinese, in case the caption below the portrait on the gold bar is actually specifically naming him (as you’d hope).

possibly-wangs-name

A final note: I have to say I’m not feeling hugely convinced by the general’s hat as drawn: I’d have thought it ought to look more like General Wang Jun’s hat (in the link a little way above). So… all in all, I don’t think we’re doing hugely well here. :-(

A 1933 Plane?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the image of a plane on this same gold bar also has me a little perplexed.

gold-bar-plane

The reason for my perplexity is that planes of the 1920s were almost all biplanes: while all the planes of the 1930s that I could find better matching this design (all-metal, single wing mounted underneath the fuselage, single propellor on each wing, modern-looking nose, door over the wing) were built closer to WW2. Even so, the Douglas DC-3 was in 1936 [but doesn’t have a door over the wing], the Lockheed Model 10 Electra in 1935 [but the tail is wrong for that]): so really, I couldn’t find anything similar that was in production in 1933.

Perhaps someone with more specialist knowledge of planes circa 1933 will be able to throw some light on this plane. But for now, this too is somewhat unsatisfactory.

And The Signature Too?

At the bottom of the image, there’s apparently a signature:-

gold-bar-signature

Is this “(Something) G. Denly”? “(Something) G. Dealy”? Beats me: any suggestions?

So, My Conclusion Is…

Numerous things about these gold bars have me stumped, not just its cryptogram-like text. If I were to sum up my feelings right now, I’d say that this looks like a post-WW2 fake (and probably even from the early-to-mid 1950s), trying to make something look as though it had been made in the 1930s, but not quite getting it right.

The situation in China and (what was becoming Taiwan) in the late 1940s and early 1950s was tense and intensely political: so perhaps these gold bars were intended for some kind of political propaganda purposes back then? I really don’t know… but perhaps we shall see!

(Incidentally, why was it that people were able to date these to 1933?)

“Pigeons in World War II” by W. H. Osman…

As part of my preparations for a talk on the ‘cipher pigeon’ that I’ll be giving at Westminster Under School in a couple of months’ time, I’ve been making sure that there aren’t any books I should have read.

The one I’ve most wanted a copy of is “Memoirs of a Wartime Teenager” By Frederick Dyke: but this is out of print and out of reach, so I’d need to book a day at the British Library to have a look at it. Perhaps I’ll get a chance shortly.

However, I recently found another book that I knew instantly I had to have: “Pigeons in World War II” by W. H. Osman (presumably a relative of “the late Lt.-Col A[lfred] H[enry] Osman, CBE”, who wrote extensively about pigeons under the pen-name “Squills”).

pigeons-in-world-war-ii-532

Though having said that, it’s not so much a ‘book’ as a book-shaped database: firstly, of letters from top-ranking officials thanking the nation’s pigeon breeders and trainers for their outstanding effort in WWII; and secondly, of microstories describing individual pigeons’ contributions to the same war effort.

Cross-referencing and correlating these pigeony microstories does conjure up a number of slightly larger pigeon-related narratives. For example, it seems clear that many of the pigeons employed by the US Army in Normandy for D-Day were bred and trained in and around Plymouth.

Yet the question I particularly wanted to try to answer – of course – is if we can find out any more about the two wartime pigeons “NURP 40 TW 194″ and “NURP 37 DK 76″ who were apparently carrying the two copies of our mysterious (or if not ‘mysterious’ then certainly frustrating) enciphered message.

Even though single-letter NURP pigeons (e.g. “NURP.42.A.4708″, “Bred by N.P.S. member, H. R. Veal, Basingstoke, Hants”, and “Trained by R.A.F. Station, Gillingham”) had a fairly random geographic distribution, I think it’s fair to conclude that multi-letter NURP pigeons tended to have at least some method to their naming madness. For example, “TTT” always corresponded to a group of pigeon breeders and trainers in Ipswich: “WAC” corresponded to Walthamstow, “SBC” to Shepherd’s Bush, “DX” to Doncaster, “WMK” to West Malling, and so forth. Additionally, many three-letter sets beginning with N– were from Nottingham, while many three-letter sets beginning with P– were from Plymouth. Just to keep you on your toes, it turns out that “XEB” was from Bexleyheath / Welling in Kent.

At the same time, there were also a fair few exceptions with no obvious rationale (“BFF” was from Poole, etc), so there was no universal naming convention, and hence we must tread carefully with our heavy-booted inferences.

The nearest to our DK and TW letter-groups was “RP.40.DUK.57″ (p.116), a pigeon from an unnamed Thames Estuary breeder that was liberated in France on D-Day (i.e. the pigeon was liberated, not the breeder *sigh*), but who didn’t get home until the 8th of the following month. There was nothing remotely like the “TW” group to be seen.

I then checked this against the Special Section pigeon archive I had previously photographed at Bletchley Park (just to be sure), but that had no additional information (on its p.47) beyond what I’d just found:-

RP-40-DUK-57

However… when I double-checked this against the list of owners in the Thames Estuary Group, one name in particular stood out like a severed thumb (guess who was just reading Conan Doyle’s “The Engineer’s Thumb” with his son?!):

L-Duke

So: my current best guess is that of our two pigeons, the “DK” one may well have been owned by L. Duke of The Stores, Great Shelford, Cambridgeshire – so I’m now following this up, and will see where it leads.

At the same time, another owner from the same Thames Estuary Group was W. H. Twigg of 71 Stevenson Avenue, Tilbury. Might it be that the “TW” was short for “Twigg”? It’s entirely possible (but still a bit of a long shot).

W-H-Twigg

Hopefully, we shall see before too long…

“Expedition Unknown” does the Beale Papers (sort of)…

It’s an episode of “Expedition Unknown” that has everything – Foamhenge, some inside peeks of the Grand Masonic Lodge in Philadelphia, and even Justin ‘Justintime’ Cannady (hey there Justin) helping host Josh Gates get absolutely nowhere in his quest to dig up squillions of dollars’ worth of Beale-related treasure 4 miles from Bufords etc etc.

Yet as normal, it’s all based on a grossly unsophisticated reading of the Beale Papers, and with little or no attempt to assess the evidence, do a close reading of the texts, or even really engage beyond the superficial gee-that’s-a-lotta-treasure-y’all-talkin’-’bout-there-hoss mythology we’ve seen a dozen or more times before.

All the same, if you’re simply desperate to see Josh Gates fall out of a raft, then this could well be the best thing you’ll see all week. Enjoy!

The Tamam Shud fragment was a proof of identity…

When dealing with the Somerton Man case, many people have a tendency to try to reduce it all to a story wrapped around an emotion (love, passion, jealousy, hurt, anger, loss, betrayal, etc) and/or a crime (plotting, deception, murder, suicide, etc).

But actually, these are mindsets that not only don’t help, but also get in the way: looking at the evidence with a clear head is a hard enough challenge on its own. In fact, I find getting to the point where I’m ready even to ask the right question to be a genuinely tough process, never mind reaching towards an answer.

So here’s today’s question…

Actual-tamam-shud

Why was the “Tamam Shud” scrap of paper in the Somerton Man’s pocket at all?

After a lot of consideration, my starting points for answering this question are:
* I believe the Somerton Man placed it there himself (i.e. it was not planted there by someone after his death)
* I believe it was not random, accidental or coincidental (i.e. it seems to have been consciously and deliberately put in a hard to find place)
* I believe it was placed there for a rational reason (whatever that reason happens to be)
* I believe it had a specific extrinsic function – that is, it had value or meaning or use only in relation to someone or something else

So… why was it there, then?

Putting all this together, my current working hypothesis is that the “Tamam Shud” fragment was the Somerton Man’s physical proof that the Rubaiyat was linked to him, even though he had (apparently) not previously met the person who was in possession of that Rubaiyat.

So the two items when combined together form a paired identification proof mechanism: the Tamam Shud scrap was a token to prove his identity to someone he had not previously met, while the Rubaiyat was a token to prove the other party’s identification to him.

If this is right, we have a fairly small number of token-based mutual identification scenarios to consider, such as:

(1) Seller – Intermediary – Buyer
* The Seller tears the “Tamam Shud” out of the Rubaiyat.
* The Seller gives the “Tamam Shud” to the Intermediary (the Somerton Man) and the Rubaiyat to the Buyer.
* The Intermediary meets the Buyer to collect money – possession of “Tamam Shud” token proves he was sent by the Seller.
* The Intermediary takes the money back to the Buyer.

(2) Seller – Messenger – Buyer
* The Seller (the Somerton Man in this scenario) tears the “Tamam Shud” out of the Rubaiyat.
* The Seller gives the Rubaiyat to the Messenger to give to the Buyer (but keeps the “Tamam Shud”).
* The Seller meets the Buyer to collect money – possession of the two halves mutually prove each party’s identity.

(3) Buyer – Messenger – Seller
* The Buyer tears the “Tamam Shud” out of the Rubaiyat
* The Buyer passes the “Tamam Shud” to the Seller via a Messenger
* The Buyer meets the Seller to collect money – possession of the two halves mutually prove each party’s identity.

Pete Bowes and Gordon Cramer seem to insist that this kind of behaviour is merely ‘tradecraft’, but I really don’t know if that’s a position that can yet be justified. All the same, there’s certainly a strong whiff of distrust and proof at play here: personally, I don’t yet know what to make of it all. But it is what it is.

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