The manuscript seems straight out of fiction: a strange, handwritten message in abstract symbols and Roman letters meticulously covering 105 yellowing pages hidden in the depths of an academic archive.

Now, more than three centuries after it was devised, the 75,000-character Copiale Cipher finally has been broken.

The mysterious cryptogram, bound in gold and green brocade paper, reveals the rituals and political leanings of an 18th-century secret society in Germany. The rituals detailed in the document indicate the society had a fascination with eye surgery and ophthalmology, though it seems members of the society were not eye doctors.

“This opens up a window for people who study the history of ideas and the history of secret societies,” said computer scientist Kevin Knight of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, part of the international team that finally cracked the cipher. “Historians believe that secret societies have had a role in revolutions, but all that is yet to be worked out, and a big part of the reason is because so many documents are enciphered.”READ MORE