Fragments of a Quran that sat unnoticed in the library of the University of Birmingham for a century are now believed to be part of the world's oldest manuscript of the religious text. A Ph.D. student noticed the particular style of calligraphy on the two-page folio, prompting the University to radiocarbon date a small piece of the manuscript.

Image: Birmingham University via NY Times. Image 1.Image: Birmingham University via NY Times

The test dated the fragments to be at least 1,370 years old, placing them within a few years of the founding of Islam. David Thomas, a professor of Christianity and Islam at the University of Birmingham, says the author of the text may have even known the Prophet Muhammad, and that the discovery could help resolve the debate between scholars who believe the Quran was changed or expanded after Muhammad's death, and Muslims who believe the Quran was completed by the time he died. The text on the two pages is very similar to today's Quran, suggesting that the book was completed before Muhammad's death.


Facts about ancient texts:

The ancient document in question was found in the 1920s during an expedition funded by Edward Cadbury of the Cadbury chocolate family.

The oldest biblical texts date from around 600 BCE and were found along with other manuscripts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered between 1946 and 1956 in eleven different caves in the West Bank near the northwest shores of the Dead Sea.

The oldest writing in the world can be found on the Kish tablet, a limestone tablet found in the ancient Sumerian city of Kish, present day Iraq. The tablet is inscribed with proto-cuneiform signs and is dated to 3500 BC.

Cover image: NY Times