Pieces of what could be the oldest Koran known have been rediscovered in a library at the UK's University of Birmingham. Mistakenly bound with a Koran dating to the late seventh century, two sheets of the Muslim holy book had sat in a collection of 3,000 Middle Eastern texts gathered in Iraq in the 1920s before PhD researcher Alba Fedeli recognized their "startling" significance, the BBC and Reuters report. Radiocarbon dating revealed the fragments, written in ink on sheepskin or goatskin, were created between 568 and 645. At least 1,370 years old, they "could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam," between 610 and 632, professor David Thomas says. That means the individual who transcribed the revelations was likely alive at the time of the Prophet Muhammad. "He would have seen him probably, he would maybe have heard him preach. He may have known him personally," Thomas adds.
Passages of the Koran—said to have been relayed to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel—were initially written on parchment, stone, leaves, and even the shoulder blades of camels before a book form was completed around 650. An expert at the British Library suggests the manuscript, which contains chapters 18 to 20 in an early form of Arabic known as Hijazi script, is a "precious survivor" of a copy distributed later. "Finding out we had one of the oldest fragments of the Koran in the whole world has been fantastically exciting," says a university director, adding never "in our wildest dreams" did researchers expect the find to be so old. As radiocarbon dating offers a range of dates for several old Koran editions, it isn't clear which is truly the oldest. The latest find, however, is among the earliest. The university plans to put the fragments on display in October so all can see what Thomas calls a "treasure that is second to none." (The Chattanooga suspect was familiar with the ancient book.)